Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are natural molar teeth that appear at the posterior part of your jaw, frequently after 16 years of age. Due to the lack of space at the region where they erupt, wisdom teeth are often impacted against the gums, surrounding bone or the tooth in front of it (second molar). This problem is not limited to wisdom teeth as other teeth can also be affected in a similar way.
What are wisdom teeth?
An impacted tooth may cause problems such as swelling, pain and infection. It may also cause permanent damage to adjacent teeth, gums and the supporting bone structure. Rarely, an impacted tooth can lead to the formation of cysts or tumors that can destroy large portions of the jaw if left untreated.
Problems mentioned earlier can occur insidiously with few or no apparent symptoms. Removing the impacted teeth only when the problems arise, is not encouraged as the procedure would have to performed in a compromised condition and may result in greater discomfort, slower recovery and higher rate of complication. Therefore if the dentist feels that the impacted tooth poses a risk, it may be removed as a precaution.
Current specialist recommendation is to remove impacted wisdom teeth between the ages of 14 and 22 years if the impacted teeth pose as a risk for future problems. Surgery performed during this age range is technically easier and patients recover much more quickly. It is important to note that risk of complications increases with age as the healing process tends to be slower in older patients.
Removing impacted wisdom tooth is a simple surgical procedure which involves making a small incision in the gums and removing the tooth under local anesthesia, sedation, or general anesthesia. Your dentist or the oral maxillofacial surgeon will recommend the type of anesthesia you should undergo depending on your condition.
You may experience some swelling and discomfort. However, your dentist or the oral maxillofacial surgeon is able to reduce the possible discomfort with medication and provide postoperative instructions which will aid healing.
The most common complication associated with wisdom tooth removal is a condition called “dry socket” .The “dry socket” is typified by food debris trapped within the extraction site and a throbbing pain that radiates from the affected area to the temple on the same side. This pain occurs three or four days after the tooth has been extracted.
“Dry sockets” are found to occur more often in women (even more so in those taking oral contraceptives), persons over the age of 30, and smokers. “Dry socket” in itself is self-limiting, but because of the discomfort it causes, it needs to be treated by your dentist, who will usually place a medicated dressing in the extraction site to soothe the area.
A less frequent complication associated with the removal of wisdom teeth is numbness of the tongue, lip or chin. This is because anatomically, the wisdom teeth are closely related to the nerves that provide sensation to these areas. Fortunately, this complication happens very rarely and when it does, is usually temporary.