Wisdom teeth grow and take shape under the gum line much later in life than all other teeth.

They cause problems for many people, sometimes by not appearing, sometimes by pushing painfully through the gum line or lining up improperly with other teeth.  Medical intervention might be required to align them properly.

Potential Problems with Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are also referred to as third molars and are found in the very back of the mouth. They are the last in the row of teeth in each corner of the mouth. Although rare, sometimes a person will only develop one or two wisdom teeth as opposed to all four. Depending on several factors, when they begin to grow and find their place in the mouth, they may cause problems that are clearly and painfully visible.

Common problems with wisdom teeth include:

A compacted wisdom tooth

  • Impacted teeth
  • Infected teeth and gums
  • Painful pressure sores
  • Tooth, gum and mouth pain
  • Headaches or facial pain

Many times your dentist will notice the wisdom teeth coming in before you feel them. He may keep a close watch on them to see if they start to shift, change direction or make their way indirectly to the gum line.

In some cases, wisdom teeth can develop and surface quickly. All may surface at the same time in a straight manner or one or two may come in crooked or half-way. As they make their way through the gum line, you may be able to feel discomfort, slight bleeding and in some cases, pain. If the tooth causes any type of sore or laceration it could be impacted. Impaction can lead to serious problems and complications. Infection can occur if food gets caught inside or around the area where the tooth is trying to come in. The tooth can quickly become infected as well as the surrounding area in the mouth. If the infection spreads anywhere past the entry point, it can be life-threatening. The situation should be monitored closely and the infection must be treated prior to removal of the tooth.

A cyst can also form around the tooth. The cyst acts a protective barrier, preventing the gum line from forming properly. A cyst may be full of infection as well and should be removed carefully after a round of antibiotics as successfully reduced the swelling. Cysts can grow in size very rapidly, so emergency dental care should be instituted.

Another problem an impacted wisdom tooth may cause is that it could put pressure on the existing teeth in the mouth. This can cause them to shift and in some cases crack under pressure. Hairline cracks are prone to cavities and eventually lead to rot and infection. That is why it is important to seek dental care as soon as you see that a new wisdom tooth has surfaced.

Treatment: Extraction

A 3D rendering of wisdom teeth growing in wellTreating wisdom teeth can be tricky, and depend on several factors. If they are not causing any problems, your dentist may recommend keeping a close eye on them or having a follow-up appointment before your next six month visit. If they appear to be coming in crooked or are causing discomfort, treatment will likely be removal. The earlier wisdom teeth are detected under the surface of the gum line, the better.

When they first develop, the tissue is often soft and flexible. This means they should be easy to remove without any major complications. The longer they are under the gum line, at the surface or the longer a tooth remains impacted the greater chance that they will be more difficult to remove without any complications. Some are easy to remove and can be done so by a skilled dentist. Depending on the location of the wisdom teeth and the overall oral health of the patient, the procedure can be done in the office under local anesthesia. If there are underlying complicating factors such as previous infection or a tooth is severely impacted under the gum line, an oral surgeon will need to remove it. An oral surgeon will be able to carefully extract the tooth and have the skills and equipment necessary for removal should any complications arise.

In many cases, an oral surgeon will suggest a general anesthesia or other medications that will help you relax or fall asleep during the procedure. This is mainly used to help calm your nerves and ease tension before and during the extraction process. Removal time varies per person.

Generally it can take up to 15 to 30 minutes to remove all four wisdom teeth as long as they come out easily. Times may be greater if there is other dental work that needs to be done or an infection is found within the socket of the tooth or gum line.

It is important after removal to follow all directions given by your dentist or surgeon precisely. Avoid drinking from straws and be sure to keep the areas where the teeth were removed free of food debris. Your dentist may recommend that you eat soft foods for the first 24 hours or longer, depending on how well you feel your mouth is healing.

Wisdom teeth removal is considered minor surgery but major complications can develop.

Contact your dentist if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Severe pain
  • Bleeding

If you experience fever, severe pain or severe bleeding, seek medical care immediately.

Having the wisdom teeth removed will result in a healthy mouth in which the other teeth are free to move and have enough space to prevent overcrowding. If your mouth was overcrowded due to pressure from a wisdom tooth, you should begin to see relief within weeks following the extraction. If you have any cracked teeth or cavities from invading wisdom teeth, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with your dentist to fix these issues.

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