Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last teeth to erupt in your mouth. This generally occurs between the ages of 16 and 25, a time of life that has been called the “Age of Wisdom.”
Anthropologists note that the rough diet of early humans resulted in the excessive wear of their teeth. Normal drifting of the teeth to compensate for this wear ensured that space was available for most wisdom teeth to erupt by adolescence. The modern diet, which is much softer, and the popularity of orthodontic tooth straightening procedures produce a fuller dental arch, which quite commonly doesn’t leave room for the wisdom teeth to erupt, thereby setting the stage for problems when the final four molars try to enter the mouth. It can be painful when the Wisdom Teeth try to fit in a mouth that does not have enough room for them.
How Serious is an Impacted Tooth?
Impacted and partially impacted teeth can be painful and lead to infection. They may also crowd or damage adjacent teeth or roots.
More serious problems may occur if the sac surrounding the impacted tooth becomes filled with fluid and enlarges to form a cyst. As the cyst grows it may hollow out the jaw and permanently damage adjacent teeth, the surrounding bone and nerves. Rarely, if a cyst is not treated, a tumor may develop from its walls and a more serious surgical procedure may be required to remove it.
Despite the considerable concern regarding impacted (covered up) or unerupted third molars, a recent study sponsored by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation finds that third molars which have broken through the tissue and erupted into the mouth in a normal, upright position may be as prone to disease as those third molars that remain impacted.
Why Should I Remove My Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt. When they align properly, and gum tissue is healthy, wisdom teeth do not have to be removed. Unfortunately, this does not generally happen. They may grow sideways, partially emerge from the gum, and even remain trapped beneath the gum and bone. Impacted teeth can take many positions in the bone.
These teeth may cause many problems. When they are partially erupted, the opening around the tooth allows bacteria to grow and eventually may cause an infection or decay. The result: swelling, jaw stiffness, pain and illness. The pressure from the erupting wisdom tooth may move other teeth and disrupt the alignment of existing teeth. The most serious problem occurs when tumors or cysts form around the impacted wisdom tooth, resulting in the destruction of or injury to the jawbone and adjacent healthy teeth. Removal of the offending impacted tooth or teeth usually resolves these problems. Early removal is recommended to decrease the surgical risk involved with the procedure.
With an oral examination and x-rays of the jaws, Dr. Meyers can evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and try to predict whether there may be present or future problems. Studies have shown that early evaluation and treatment result in a better outcome for the patient. Patients generally are first evaluated in the mid- teenage years by their dentist, orthodontist or by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
What Happens During Surgery?
Before surgery, Dr. Meyers will discuss with you what to expect. This is a good time to ask questions or express your concerns. It is especially important to let Dr. Meyers know about any illness you have and medications you are taking.
The relative ease with which a wisdom tooth may be removed depends on several conditions, including the position of the tooth and root development. Partially or totally impacted wisdom teeth may require a more involved surgical procedure.
Most wisdom tooth extractions are performed in the CPOMS office under local anesthesia with intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Dr. Meyers will discuss the anesthetic option that is right for you. These extractions are provided in an environment of optimum safety, utilizing modern monitoring equipment and staff—including Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists where indicated—who are experienced in a variety of anesthesia techniques. Sometimes a hospital may be the preferred place of treatment.
What Happens after Surgery?
Following surgery, you may experience some swelling and mild discomfort, which are part of the normal healing process. Cold compresses may help decrease the swelling, and medication prescribed by Dr. Meyers can help manage the discomfort. You may be instructed to modify your diet following surgery and later progress to more normal foods.