Wisdom teeth sound promising, but they tend to bring more trouble than wisdom.
In fact, it’s more common to have your wisdom teeth removed than to keep them in place. It’s important to understand the role of wisdom teeth in your mouth and prepare for their removal before they have the opportunity to cause lasting damage.
When Do Wisdom Teeth Grow In?
The development of a child’s smile begins long before she is born, with small primary teeth forming inside of gum tissue during the first trimester. A baby’s first teeth erupts around six months of age, with all 20 primary teeth present before the child turns three years old.
The jaw continues to grow in preparation for adult teeth, which can emerge as early as age five. Most children gradually lose their primary teeth between ages six and 12, until 28 permanent teeth exist. These include:
- 8 incisors, the four front teeth on the top and four front teeth on the bottom with a flat edge
- 4 cuspids, one on each side of the incisors, used to tear food easily
- 8 bicuspids, the transitional teeth used to tear and grind food
- 8 molars, which grow in two sets of four in the back of the mouth to grind food
The wisdom teeth are the third set of molars to grow into the mouth. In most cases, wisdom teeth erupt between ages 17 and 25. Adults who keep their wisdom teeth have a total of 32 permanent teeth.
However, unlike other permanent adult teeth, wisdom teeth have the potential to cause serious pain and damage inside the mouth. This is why they must be regularly monitored and evaluated by a dentist.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
The wisdom teeth emerge in the four back corners of your mouth, with two on top and two on the bottom. It’s believed that early humans relied on their wisdom teeth to grind raw plant tissue and other tough foods. They probably had larger jaws that allowed more room for the third molars to grow in comfortably.
In modern times, however, smaller jaw sizes don’t always allow for the comfortable addition of wisdom teeth into the back of the mouth. Some adults don’t have any trouble with the presence of wisdom teeth, but most people experience discomfort, crowding, and pain after their wisdom teeth erupt. This explains why at least five million people have their wisdom teeth removed every year.
Signs Your Wisdom Teeth Need to Be Removed
At every six-month dental checkup, your dentist examines your mouth for early signs of problems like gum disease and cavities. She also uses x-ray imaging and oral examinations to assess the status of your wisdom teeth and determine if removal is necessary.
You may also notice signs of wisdom teeth complications before your next dentist appointment occurs. If there isn’t enough space in the back of your mouth for wisdom teeth to come to the surface, they will erupt in the wrong position. Symptoms of wisdom teeth problems include these symptoms:
- Misaligned wisdom teeth trap food and cavity-causing bacteria
- Pain, swelling, and stiffness in the jaw
- Changes to surrounding teeth, including shifting and crowding
- Damage to roots of nearby teeth or bone
- Unpleasant taste or odor in your mouth
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Tender or bleeding gums
To avoid these risks and prevent damage to your smile, your dentist may recommend wisdom teeth removal as a pre-emptive measure. This ensures that the wisdom teeth are pulled out before a problem has a chance to develop. Early removal of wisdom teeth also eliminates the potential of a more painful and complex procedure down the road, such as impacted wisdom teeth.
What Are the Dangers of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
Your dentist may refer to your wisdom teeth as “impacted” if they don’t have enough room to emerge through the gums normally. As a result, they may get stuck in any of the following situations:
- Grow at an angle toward other teeth
- Emerge “lying down” within the jawbone
- Stay trapped within the jawbone
All of these situations cause pain, discomfort, and serious risks to your oral health. If your dentist finds any signs that your wisdom teeth may be impacted, it’s best to have your wisdom teeth removed as soon as possible.
Wisdom Teeth Removal and Recovery
The wisdom teeth extraction process is a safe, standard procedure performed across the country every day. Here are the steps you can expect:
- Local anesthesia or conscious sedation prevent pain, discomfort, and anxiety
- Your dentist removes the tissue and bone surrounding all four wisdom teeth
- Wisdom teeth are extracted from their sockets
- Stitches close each extraction site
Recovery lasts about three to five days. You can expect slight bleeding and swelling during the first 24 hours, and your jaw may feel stiff after the anesthesia wears off. Fortunately, standard over-the-counter pain medications can reduce your symptoms and provide relief.
Use these other tips to optimize your healing process after wisdom teeth removal:
- If antibiotics are prescribed, use as recommended
- Eat soft foods
- Avoid spicy foods, tobacco, and alcohol
- Rest and give the area time to heal
- Don’t drink through a straw
As long as you carefully follow your dentist’s post-operative instructions, you can expect the back corners of your mouth to heal fully within three to four weeks.
Learn More About Your Wisdom Teeth
Only your dentist can evaluate your wisdom teeth and help you determine whether they need to be removed. The team at Arvada Dental Center in Arvada, CO offers the individualized care you deserve to keep your mouth healthy and attractive. Call (303) 421-7611 today to make your appointment and learn more about protecting your smile from the unexpected threat of wisdom teeth.