Wisdom teeth are the third-last permanent molars. Most people have four wisdom teeth, two in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw. These teeth are commonly called wisdom teeth because they usually erupt between the ages of 16 to 21, known as the ‘age of wisdom’. A wisdom tooth is impacted when it is obstructed from erupting fully into the mouth by the tooth in front of it or the surrounding bone or gums.
Problems caused by impacted wisdom teeth
Current guidelines recommend that wisdom teeth should be considered for removal only under certain circumstances, for example if repeated infections are occurring. The dentist would discuss your case with you and advise as appropriate. This may be that you do need to have a wisdom tooth removed. This is called minor oral surgery.
More serious problems such as the formation of cysts or tumours around an impacted tooth can occur, leading to destruction of the surrounding jawbone and neighbouring teeth. These conditions may require complex and extensive treatment. As problems can develop silently, without your knowledge, a check-up with your dentist is thus advisable.
Check-up and consultation
Your initial visit to the dentist would include an examination of your mouth and X-rays to determine the position of the wisdom teeth, their condition and the status of the adjacent teeth and bone.
To prevent problems associated with impacted wisdom teeth, it is advisable to remove them early. The best time to remove them would be during the teenage years, before the roots of the teeth are fully formed and firmly embedded in the jawbone. Healing is also better during this period, with less risk of complications.
This is a minor surgical procedure that can usually be performed with little discomfort. The procedure can be performed under local anaesthesia (with or without sedation to control anxiety) or general anaesthesia. Your surgeon will advise you on the type most appropriate for your needs.
After the surgery
After surgery, some minor bleeding from the wound can be expected, which can be controlled by biting on a piece of gauze over the operation area for about half an hour. Facial swelling and discolouration of the overlying skin may also develop, increasing for the first 72 hours and subsiding thereafter. You may not be able to open your mouth as wide as usual for a few days.
Painkillers, antibiotics and an antiseptic mouthwash are usually prescribed after the surgery. You will be advised to maintain good oral hygiene and also to keep to a soft diet for a few days following surgery.