Learning How Your Wisdom Teeth Impact Your Oral Health

For many people, wisdom teeth are more than a little confusing. After all, why would our bodies grow and develop something that causes so many problems and often needs to be removed? Well, the human body actually has quite a few features that we don’t need or use anymore, including the appendix, tonsils, tailbones, and more. It’s a quirk of evolution—and one that can sometimes be a little problematic.

Thankfully, not all wisdom teeth need to be removed, and when they do, it’s a very straightforward process. If your wisdom teeth are starting to erupt, you likely have plenty of questions about them. To help you understand the ins and outs of wisdom teeth and how yours might affect you, we’ve put together a FAQ answering the most common questions we get about them.

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are molars that erupt in the very back of your mouth. They’re the third and final set of molars you’ll ever get, so once they come in, you officially have all of your adult teeth! Most people develop a full set of four wisdom teeth, one in each back corner of their mouth. Just like other molars, wisdom teeth are designed to help you chew your food better.

When do they come in?

Some people don’t develop all of their wisdom teeth—and a lucky few don’t develop them at all—but for those who do, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt in your mouth. While your other adult teeth should all finish erupting around 13 years old, wisdom teeth take a little more time, coming in anywhere between the ages of 17 and 21 years old.

It’s this delayed development that gives wisdom teeth their name. After all, by the time you get them, you’ve become a little “wiser” with age! But why do wisdom teeth come in so late? Well, scientists believe that the reason comes down to development. When your other adult teeth come in, you’re still growing, so there’s simply not enough room for wisdom teeth to erupt. By the time wisdom teeth come in, though, you’re finished growing, which gives you the best chance of having enough space for the extra teeth.

Why do so many people have to have their wisdom teeth pulled?

Originally, wisdom teeth sat in the broader jaws of our ancestors, helping them to chew coarse, rough foods that made up their diet. As modern humans developed and began creating new ways to prepare food, our need to chew such tough foods decreased, which likely led to a gradual decrease in the size of our jaws. Despite this shrink in size, though, we’re still growing the same number of teeth—there’s just less room for them.

Today, wisdom teeth are often pulled because their eruption often causes long-lasting  discomfort. They can even become impacted, which is a painful condition where a tooth isn’t able to erupt properly, potentially even growing sideways into other teeth.

The best way to permanently relieve this wisdom tooth pain is often simply to remove them, especially since we don’t need them to function normally. After all, you’ve been chewing just fine without them until now, so the only difference you’ll notice with them gone is the disappearance of any pain or discomfort that they’re causing you.

That said, not everyone needs their wisdom teeth removed. If they’re not causing you any pain and are erupting normally, there’s no need to remove them! The best way to determine if you need your wisdom teeth removed is to pay attention to your symptoms and to visit Dr. Cooley-Bentz regularly. She can keep an eye on the development of your wisdom teeth and will help you determine whether or not your wisdom teeth need to go.

Why do wisdom teeth get impacted?

Wisdom teeth get impacted for the same reasons that they’re so often pulled. When it comes down to it, many people’s jaws are simply too small to fit wisdom teeth along with all their other teeth. Additionally, when wisdom teeth begin growing in at an angle, they can bump into already developed molars and become impacted, preventing them from erupting normally and requiring them to be removed.

Does it take a special doctor to do the extraction?

Oral surgeons and some general dentists can remove wisdom teeth, but how they go about it tends to be different. Oral surgeons generally have more specialized training that allows them to use different levels of sedation, including IV sedation, during dental procedures. This is a huge advantage for some patients, especially if they’re anxious about the procedure.

In contrast, general dentists perform the procedure using a localized anesthetic. Using this method, you’re fully awake throughout the procedure and will remember all of it, but you’re completely numb. You shouldn’t feel any pain during your wisdom tooth removal, just some pressure. Dr. Cooley Bentz has advanced training in general oral surgery and offers a range of different anesthetic options, so you can always discuss which one will work best for you with her.

What is the wisdom teeth extraction procedure like?

The extraction procedure is surprisingly simple, beginning with your dentist either numbing your mouth or administering the level of sedation that you agreed upon beforehand. Once it has taken effect, Dr. Cooley-Bentz will begin removing your wisdom tooth. If the tooth hasn’t broken through the gums yet, she’ll need to make a small incision to remove it.

If you’re getting your wisdom teeth extraction with a localized anesthetic, you should only feel pressure during the procedure. Always let Dr. Cooley Bentz know right away if you start feeling any pain. That way, she can give you more anesthetic to ensure that the procedure is completely painless. If you’re getting some level of sedation, however, you may not remember much of the procedure or you may actually sleep through the entire process. Either way, the procedure will seem to fly by—it’ll be over before you know it!

The length of the procedure varies based on how many teeth you’re getting removed and how complex your case is, but it usually takes 45 minutes or less. Dr. Cooley-Bentz will finish the procedure by stitching the extraction site up with dissolvable stitches and placing gauze over it. You’ll need to put light, steady pressure on this gauze for up to an hour after your surgery. This helps stop the bleeding and encourages the formation of a blood clot, which is essential for the healing process.

What should I expect for recovery?

Once the medication has worn off, your surgical site will start to feel sore and there will likely be some swelling. Thankfully, though, this pain isn’t bad and can be managed with over-the-counter pain meds and by rotating ice on and off for about 10 or 15 minutes at a time. The blood clot that forms over the surgical site is vital for the healing process, so it’s incredibly important not to dislodge it. Because of this, for the first 24 hours after your surgery, you’ll need to avoid rinsing your mouth out with liquid, drinking hot liquids like soup or coffee, or drinking with a straw.

After the first 24 hours, you can begin gently rinsing your mouth out with a warm salt water solution. This helps keep the site clean, lowering your chance of infection. Just make sure to be gentle and not to spit forcefully when you’re done, as this could dislodge the blood clot in your mouth. You’ll also need to avoid activities like strenuous exercise and smoking for at least a week while you’re healing.

Additionally, you should also try to stick to soft foods for a few days and chew on the opposite side of your mouth to reduce pain and swelling while helping to speed up healing. As you begin healing and experiencing less pain, you can slowly start adding more solid foods into your diet. Your pain should begin improving after just three days, and you should notice a huge improvement after about a week.

Don’t worry about having to remember all of this right now, though! When you’ve finished your procedure, Dr. Cooley-Bentz will send you home with instructions on what you should do during the healing process. Make sure to follow all of her instructions! Doing so is in your best interest, as it’ll help you heal better and faster than you would otherwise, letting you get back to feeling great and doing the things you love sooner.

Wisdom teeth aren’t always painful or harmful to your oral health. Some people don’t need them removed, and a very lucky few don’t develop them at all—but it’s always wise to keep an eye on your wisdom teeth and talk to your dentist about what’s best for you.

If you’re experiencing wisdom tooth pain, the best way to resolve it is usually to remove the teeth. Avoiding this procedure simply leads to more pain and can negatively impact nearby teeth, but we promise the procedure is so much simpler and easier than it might sound! If you’d like to learn more about wisdom teeth and what might be best for you from a dentist near East Norriton, PA, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Cooley-Bentz at any time.