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What You Need to Know About Wisdom Teeth

By HERWriter
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Wisdom teeth (also known as third molars) usually start forming as a child enters their pre-teen years. On a dental X-ray they will appear as round, white fuzzy areas in the back of the mouth behind the other teeth.

While most people will develop four wisdom teeth (two upper/two lower), some people will develop only two wisdom teeth and there have been cases where patients have developed six wisdom teeth.

Contrary to popular belief, wisdom teeth do not make you wiser. Left in place, they can pose many threats to the neighboring teeth, hence the reason most dental practitioners recommend them for extraction.

Reasons for Extraction

Some patients just don't have room for the third molars to erupt (come in) and as these bigger teeth remain in place they will push against the existing teeth, moving them out of their ideal chewing position and increasing the forces on the TMJ (temporomandibular joint).

One of the most common reasons to remove wisdom teeth is if a patient is undergoing orthodontic treatment. The purpose of orthodontic treatment is to align the teeth and jaws in their ideal position for function. If wisdom teeth are not extracted they can affect the success of orthodontic treatment. They can affect the actual treatment itself or can cause teeth to shift after the orthodontic brackets (braces) are removed.

Many patients experience headaches and jaw aches associated with the presence of wisdom teeth, usually the result of the teeth being impacted - not enough room in the mouth for the teeth to erupt through the gum.

Potential Risks and Complications

The difficulty of the extraction process varies from patient to patient. Generally, most oral surgeons and other qualified dental practitioners will remove the wisdom teeth under IV sedation in a standard dental office. If the extractions are done in conjunction with other orthodontic treatments, they may be done in hospital under a general anaesthetic. Obviously, there is always the potential for the patient to react adversely to the medications administered both peri- and post-operatively. It is important that the dental practitioner know all pertinent aspects of a patient's medical history.

Some common side effects of surgery include numbness in lower jaw. This is because extraction of the lower teeth can injure the inferior alveolar nerve that supplies feeling to the lower lip, chin and jaw areas, depending on how close the roots of the teeth are to the nerve. While every effort is taken to minimize the risk of potential damage to the nerve, it can happen. Numbness can last up to six months after the procedure as the nerve heals. In very few cases, this numbness is permanent.

It is easier to remove upper wisdom teeth than lower, usually because the type of bone in the upper jaw is easier to work with. The jaw bones solidify more after the age of 25, so it is most beneficial for wisdom teeth to be extracted before this age. If there is swelling, there will probably be more in the lower jaw than the upper.

While many impacted wisdom teeth are right-side up, there are an equal amount of cases where the wisdom teeth are impacted sideways (either facing into or away from neighboring teeth). This makes extraction a little more complicated. This usually happens more in the lower jaw than the upper. There have also been cases where the wisdom teeth were upside down. In these extraordinary cases, there will likely be more swelling and pain than if the teeth were right-side up.

One of the most painful "complications" is the development of an abscess. This results from food particles or bacteria getting into the site due to improper or inadequate cleaning practices by the patient. As white blood cells try to protect the extraction site from the infection, a "ball" may form. This will need to be drained by your dentist or oral surgeon.

Also note that swelling, if there is any, will likely be worse on the third day following surgery and pain should be minimal. If the swelling persists and pain continues without lessening after this time frame, then visit your dentist/oral surgeon immediately.


Once the teeth have been extracted, the dental professional will close the site with dissolving sutures. For some patients these will dissolve completely within seven to ten days. Others will need to have them removed by their dentist. If these sutures are left in place they could become a source of bacteria and infection.

A patient will likely be prescribed - so long as there aren't any known allergies - an antibiotic (usually Penicillin V) and painkillers (usually Tylenol III with codeine). The patient will also be given detailed instructions on when they will be allowed to drive after the sedation medication, how to look after the extraction sites, how to brush and what signs of infection to look for.

Wisdom teeth or third molar extraction has almost become a rite of passage for young people. They will almost always be recommended for removal as a preventative measure. It is better to have them removed before they create problems than to leave them in and try to treat or address the issues they create.

Add a Comment4 Comments

I would have loved to read something so thorough and detailed before I had my wisdom teeth out. Even though I had normal extractions and no major problems after the surgery, recovery was surprisingly tough. I needed pain medicine, and I didn't feel like eating anything. But without much food, the pain medicine made me nauseous, and I threw it up. This is really not good when you have fresh open wounds in your mouth from where the teeth were.

Thanks for the information. I know many people will appreciate it.

August 7, 2009 - 8:49am
HERWriter (reply to Diane Porter)

You're welcome. That's one of the reasons I write these articles. Dentistry is a rather obscure topic for many people.

Wisdom teeth extraction is usually a lot more complicated than a "normal" extraction because often the teeth are not exposed.

As for medications, the nausea was probably due to the Codeine in the Tylenol III. They are often prescribed, but not always necessary. I personally prefer to limit myself to Extra Strength Tylenol without codeine (this works really well for me), but I know others have allergies to Tylenol and for others it won't work as well.

These are symptoms that people should discuss with the nurse after their extractions.

Anyway...thank you for your comments.

August 7, 2009 - 9:08am

My research comes from what I have learned from working with six oral surgeons (two of whom had over 30 years experience in dentistry) and typing patient treatment plans for six years. I don't believe it is accurate to say to everyone that they don't need their wisdom teeth taken out. There are actually many patients who do still have them in. They are usually addressed with extraction if there have been TMJ issues, and headaches, and where their presence may affect the successful outcome of orthodontic treatment.

Whether or not to proceed with removal is always up to the patient, but rarely are wisdom teeth removed without sufficient reason. And, as with any procedure, there is always that chance that something will not go according to plan.

August 6, 2009 - 12:53pm
EmpowHER Guest

I really think you should do more research on wisdom teeth removal and visit my website http://www.teethremoval.com

July 30, 2009 - 10:12pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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