Wisdom teeth (also known as third molars) are the last teeth to develop and appear in your mouth. They typically come in between the ages of 17 and 25. When a tooth doesn’t fully grow in, it’s impacted – usually unable to break through the gums because there isn’t enough room. If impacted, they will not become visible in your mouth during this time and will require surgical removal.
Rarely, wisdom teeth may not need to be extracted if they grow in completely and are functional, painless, cavity-free, disease-free and in a hygienic environment with healthy gum tissue. They do, however, require regular professional cleaning, annual check-ups and periodic X-rays to monitor for any disease.
An impacted wisdom tooth can damage neighboring teeth, become infected and cause pain. Because the tooth is in an area that is hard to clean, it also can invite bacteria that lead to gum disease. Oral bacteria can travel through your bloodstream and lead to infections and illnesses that affect your heart, kidneys and other organs. In some cases, a cyst or tumor can form around the base of the impacted tooth, which can lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other parts of your mouth and face.
Generally, wisdom teeth should be surgically removed when there are:
- Infections and/or periodontal (gum) disease
- Cavities that can’t be filled
- Cysts or tumors
- Damage to neighboring teeth
- Impactions that will prohibit eruption
If allowed to develop fully, wisdom teeth roots can impinge on the nerve running through the lower jaw bone. This can lead to a greater chance of temporary or permanent numbness of teeth, gums, lips and chin.
Many studies have shown that removing the wisdom teeth early before problems develop reduces the risk of complications and shortens healing time. In your mid-teens, you should have a panoramic x-ray made by your dentist, orthodontist or oral surgeon. He or she will then recommend re-evaluation after a period or time or recommend removal.
The procedure to remove wisdom teeth is generally performed utilizing IV sedation keeping you comfortable and with very little, if any, memory of the procedure. This is accomplished in the office in approximately one hour. IV sedation combined with local anesthetic will keep you comfortable throughout the procedure and for several hours after. Dr. McLain will prescribe appropriate medications to help manage the discomfort during your recovery period.
Typically, patients undergoing removal of wisdom teeth have been referred by a physician or a dentist. If X-rays have been taken, they should be forwarded to our office prior to the consultation. Dr. McLain will discuss the current state of your wisdom teeth and what, if any, treatment is needed and whether or not surgery is recommended.
It’s important to bring to the consultation something to take notes with and to ask any questions about the procedure. This is the time to speak directly with Dr. McLain, share any concerns and ask specific questions about what to do in the days prior to the surgery. At the conclusion of your appointment, you will receive detailed pre-operative instructions. Before you leave the office, you will be given an estimate of the expected insurance coverage and your estimated out-of-pocket expenses.
The Days before Surgery
Depending on the time between the consultation and surgical appointment, patients might simply go about their normal life for a few days or weeks before surgery. If Dr. McLain has prescribed any medications or provided a list of foods to eat after the surgery, now is the time to make a visit to the grocery store. Having soft foods on-hand can make recovery more seamless.
This also is a good time for you to schedule any necessary time off work or school and let friends and family know you will be recovering for a few days. You also should arrange for a friend or family member who can drive you home after the surgery and stay with you for the rest of the day.
The Day of Surgery
Your pre-operative instructions may depend on the type of anesthesia used, and the instructions should always be followed. Typically, you should:
- Not eat or drink anything, not even water, for 8 hours prior to the procedure.
- Take existing or newly prescribed medications as directed with a small sip of water.
- Avoid tobacco or alcohol for at least 8 hours before surgery.
- Brush teeth before the appointment.
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing and, preferably, a short-sleeve shirt.
- Not wear makeup, perfume or lotions.
After wisdom teeth removal surgery, it will take time for the jawbone and gum tissue to fully heal. Some discomfort may occur for the first few days, though some people have little to no pain after surgery. However, the soft tissue can still be very sensitive for several weeks, so you will need to be careful with what you eat and how you care for your mouth.
During the healing process, it is important to avoid eating small, hard foods, such as nuts, seeds or granola, as these may irritate the extraction sites.
You should avoid chewing near the extraction site, and if food does get stuck, gently rinse with warm salt water.
Choosing soft, nutritious foods for a post-surgery diet can help with recovery. You will be given specific post-operative instructions after your surgery.
How to Speed Up Wisdom Teeth Recovery
In addition to being conscious of diet, patients who have had their wisdom teeth extracted should be careful with how they care for their mouths during recovery, including:
- While dental care is still important during this time, please avoid electric toothbrushes, and WaterPiks, and brush gently with a manual toothbrush for one week following your procedure.
- Avoid over-the-counter mouthwash.
- Avoid drinking from straws, as the sucking motion can increase bleeding.
- Take all prescriptions as prescribed.
- Do not smoke.
Other Common Side Effects
After wisdom tooth surgery, it is normal to experience some pain and taste blood. Immediately after surgery, patients can experience mild side effects of anesthesia – including dizziness, nausea and shivering.
Patients dealing with impacted wisdom teeth may feel additional temporary discomfort. In the event of sudden or persistent increases in pain, with no relief after taking prescribed medications, please contact Dr. McLain at (303) 798-4553 for treatment options.