A Guide to Wisdom Teeth

When your wisdom teeth emerge, it can be painful. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who do not feel any pain whatsoever! So why does wisdom tooth pain only affect certain people? What causes the pain? If your dentist says you need your wisdom teeth extracted, what can you expect?

Our wisdom teeth are the last of our adult teeth to emerge and they usually start to come through in our early to mid-twenties. They are large molars that are positioned at the back of the mouth, at both the top and the bottom. Therefore, you could have up to four wisdom teeth emerging.

Many people do not experience problems with their wisdom teeth because they do not emerge. However, other people do experience dental problems because their wisdom teeth try to emerge into a mouth that is already crowded with teeth. Under these circumstances, the wisdom teeth can become impacted, which means that they cannot grow out fully as the other teeth block them. Of course, this can also cause problems with the existing teeth, as the wisdom teeth push up from below and try to force their way through.

When wisdom teeth become impacted, they make the jaw feel swollen and tender; to ache; and to be painful to the touch. It can be painful to eat and drink, while on occasions the damaged wisdom tooth can also become infected. If you visit your dentist regularly, they will monitor the growth of your wisdom teeth over a period of time by taking x-rays. Therefore, any corrective treatment can be completed before the pain is noticeable.

If you do not visit your dentist regularly, you may only become aware of your wisdom teeth because of the pain they cause. Once the cause of the problem has been identified, your dentist may be able to remove the wisdom teeth. In complex cases, your dentist may instead choose to refer you to a dental surgeon.

Wisdom teeth extractions are usually performed under sedation or under general anaesthetic. If the extraction is relatively simple and can be done in your dental practice (rather than in surgery), your dentist may be able to extract the tooth under a local anaesthetic.

Surgery is required because the impacted wisdom tooth is still trapped below the gum line. Therefore, the dental surgeon will need to cut through and lift away the gum, and in some cases cut away some of the jaw bone to reach and remove the tooth.

Most wisdom tooth extractions are performed in a single day. If the surgery is performed under general anaesthetic or sedation, it is important that you have a friend or relative there with you. They will need to drive you home after the operation and to remain with you for 24 hours, as you will remain tired and disorientated for a period of time afterwards.

Wisdom teeth removals are very common and a routine procedure. After the operation, however, you may still feel some pain in your jaw and there may be some bruising. Over the counter painkillers from your local chemist are the best way to treat this and the bruising should disappear gradually over the next fortnight.

Having a wisdom tooth removed can also affect your ability to eat certain foods directly after the operation. You must be careful not to damage the stitches in your gum. Therefore, your dentist will probably recommend that you stick to softer foods and liquids for the first couple of days. You must also minimise the risk of the operation area becoming infected – therefore, smoking and drinking alcohol are also inadvisable.

Maintaining a good standard of oral hygiene is vital to ensuring that the extraction area does not become infected. You must continue to brush your teeth as normal, although for the first few days you need to avoid directly brushing the site where the wisdom tooth was removed. Your dentist may recommend using a mouthwash to compensate for this, which will help to keep your mouth clean without being as abrasive as brushing.

Wisdom tooth extraction is a very common procedure and serious complications are rare. If your gums continue to bleed or if the pain in your jaw does not subside after a couple of weeks, speak to your doctor. You should also consult your doctor if you feel unwell or have a high temperature.