What is a wisdom tooth?

 A word to the wise.

Most of us have heard a horror story or two about wisdom teeth: a friend whose teeth caused them unbearable pain or a work colleague who ended up with a swollen face for days after having them extracted. But what are wisdom teeth, why do we have them, and do they always need to be removed?

Wisdom teeth are actually a perfectly normal part of your oral arrangement and don’t always cause problems. 

Did you know that wisdom teeth are:

•    The third set of molars to come through in humans 
•    Called ‘wisdom teeth’ because we get them in late adolescence – when we have supposedly acquired some wisdom! 
•    Believed to have developed so that our ancestors could chew effectively on their diet of leaves, roots, nuts and meats

How do I know if my wisdom teeth need removing?

Wisdom teeth only cause problems if their position prevents them from fully erupting into the mouth. They’re the last four teeth to appear and, with 28 other adult teeth already in place, there isn’t always room for them to grow through properly. This means they sometimes get stuck, emerge at an angle or only partly come through, which causes the soft tissue around the tooth to become inflamed (known as ‘pericoronitis’). 

If you have an inflamed wisdom tooth you’re likely to experience pain, swelling and a bad taste in your mouth, bad breath, or even – in cases of severe inflammation – fever, abscesses and problems opening your mouth.
The solution is normally to extract the wisdom tooth, although antibiotics, painkillers and a special mouthwash may be given in the short-term to treat the infection.

How are wisdom teeth extracted?

So how do dentists go about extracting wisdom teeth if they are only partially visible? Usually, an x-ray or detailed 3-D CT scan will be taken of your wisdom teeth to determine how complicated they will be to remove, which will depend on the position of the tooth in relation to other teeth, how close the roots are to the nerve and the shape of the roots. In cases where removal is not straightforward, the operation will be carried out by an oral surgeon in hospital rather than by your dentist.

After having your wisdom tooth extracted, it’s important to follow any self-care instructions you’re given to help the area heal as quickly as possible, which may include taking a course of antibiotics to prevent infection, as well as painkillers.

Wisdom teeth don’t always need to be removed and may never cause you any problems, but if you do experience pain or problems at the back of your mouth, it’s a good idea to go and see your dentist or ask about it at your next check-up or, if you have sudden pain, make an emergency appointment

Find a great local dentist in your area at Colosseum Dental.

Find out more about wisdom teeth and their removal.

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Nervous patient talks with dentist