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Wisdom teeth derive their name from the fact that they form in the late teen years, making them “older and wiser.” In today’s world, the softer diet and shorter jaw of modern humans have rendered wisdom teeth unnecessary. In fact, the onset of wisdom teeth can be a painful and potentially dangerous development. In most cases, a relatively simple and straightforward surgery can extract the wisdom teeth before they cause permanent damage to the teeth and mouth.

Growth of Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are located at the back of the mouth, the “third” molar at both ends of the top and bottom row of teeth. As the wisdom teeth begin to grow, they can become impacted, or trapped in the jawbone and/or gums. As they continue to grow beneath the gum line in an angled or horizontal direction, displacement of the original line of teeth and wearing into the back molars can occur. Wisdom teeth that are unable to “erupt” above the gum line can lead to inflammation and infection. In the case of a partial eruption, a pocket often forms under the gumline, which can lead to the formation of a cyst or tumor. If left untreated, wisdom teeth cause permanent damage, including cavities, nerve damage, gum infection, bone infection, and a weakening of the jaw. Unfortunately, wisdom teeth often grow unnoticed until they cause problems in the mouth or outlying areas, such as the face. These problems can cause headaches, pain in the ears, neck, upper or lower jaw.

The Surgery

As a rule of thumb, wisdom teeth should be extracted when the oral surgeon first concludes that the teeth are impacted and pose a risk to the patient. In certain cases, surgery may require an incision into the gums, partial bone removal, and/or sectioning of the tooth before removal. The procedure is almost always performed in the dentist’s office, on an outpatient basis. The surgery is usually performed in less than an hour, depending on the depth of the impacted teeth and their angle of growth. The surgeon will recommend using a local anesthesia, a mild sedative, or a general anesthesia.

After Surgery

Following the surgery, one can expect to experience minor pain, bleeding of the gums, and swelling of the mouth. The surgeon will prescribe medication to alleviate much of this discomfort. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know how much swelling will occur because the amount of swelling does not always correspond to the severity of the impacted teeth. However, swelling typically begins the day of the surgery and peaks within two to three days, gradually subsiding in five to seven days. Applying ice packs to the jaw helps reduce any swelling you may experience. Your surgeon may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection and to aid the healing process. Most patients are fully recovered and back to work in one to two weeks.