What are Wisdom Teeth?
Most adults have 32 permanent teeth - 16 each on both the upper and lower jaw. Our third permanent molars, also known as the wisdom teeth, typically erupt between the ages of 16 and 21. However, our jaws may not have enough room for them.
Why Extract Your Wisdom Teeth?
You may have heard of people undergoing a wisdom tooth extraction, or find your own dentist recommending you to have yours removed at some point. Have you ever wondered why?
For most people, their wisdom teeth will be blocked from erupting completely in the mouth by the permanent second molars or the surrounding bone and/or gums due to the smaller jaw space. These wisdom teeth are considered to be impacted. Treating impacted wisdom teeth is the most common reason why your dentist will recommend them to be extracted.
The impacted wisdom tooth may partially emerge (partially impacted), showing only the crown of the tooth, or never emerge through the gums at all (fully impacted). The wisdom tooth may also grow at an angle towards or away from the second molar, or grow at a right angle, almost as if it is “lying” down.
Talk to us if you think you have an impacted wisdom tooth and want to know what to do next.
Impacted Wisdom Teeth - Complications
An impacted wisdom tooth is sometimes painless. You may not even realise you have one. However, if left in your jaw, it could lead to a host of other problems.
Food is easily trapped between a partially impacted wisdom tooth and the overlying gums. The position of the wisdom tooth makes it challenging to keep it clean as well. These factors make it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to form, and causing cavities or painful gum diseases to develop.
On the other hand, if the wisdom tooth is growing at an angle towards the second permanent molar, empty pockets may form between the two teeth. Food is easily trapped between them, which cannot be removed by brushing or flossing.
The resulting bacteria that form in these pockets not only causes cavities and decay on the wisdom tooth, but also on the adjacent molar as well. When that happens, additional procedures, such as root canal treatment, may be done to restore them, which is costlier. In severe cases, you may even lose your permanent second molars.
The wisdom tooth can also develop in a sac within the jawbone, which may fill with fluid to form a cyst that damages the jawbone, surrounding teeth, and nerves. Rarely, a non-cancerous tumour develops, which may require the removal of tissue and bone.
Such conditions develop over time and without warning. When signs and symptoms do show up, it causes distress, anxiety, more costly dental treatments and unnecessary schedule disruptions.
During the initial visit with your dentist, he will do a comprehensive dental examination and take some x-ray of your mouth to check the wisdom teeth’s alignment and condition. Surgery may be recommended by the dentist, depending on the wisdom teeth’s condition.
Preparing for the Surgery
A wisdom tooth surgery is normally done as an outpatient procedure, which means you can go home on the same day. While your dentist will give you specific advice on what to do before the surgery, below are some general guidelines you can follow:
- Have a good meal before the surgery. As your jaw will be numb for around 3 hours after the surgery, you will find eating and drinking difficult.
- Brush and clean your teeth well. This will reduce the chance of your wound getting infected after the surgery.
- Arrange for someone to take you home after the procedure. As the procedure involves anesthesia, you may feel disoriented after the procedure. It will be much safer to have someone bring you home.
What to Expect During the Wisdom Teeth Surgery
While wisdom teeth surgery is a minor surgical procedure performed under local anesthesia; if you feel nervous about it, you can opt to go through the procedure sedated or under general anesthesia.
During the wisdom teeth surgery, the surgeon will lift the overlying gums to uncover the wisdom teeth and surrounding bone. The tooth is then sectioned and removed. After which, the gums are stitched back into their original position.
What to Do After Wisdom Teeth Surgery
After your wisdom teeth surgery, you may experience minor bleeding, which can be controlled by biting on gauze. You should also rest for the remainder of the day. You will be given up to five days of medical leave for you to recover from the procedure by your dentist. During this period, you should avoid the following:
- Sucking liquid through a straw
- Rinsing your mouth
- Strenuous exercise
- Drinking carbonated drinks
As a blood clot will form in the tooth socket where the wisdom tooth was removed to speed up the healing process; these activities may dislodge the blood clot and expose the bone and nerves, causing a painful condition called dry socket. Contact your dentist immediately if you think you have this condition.
Over the next 24 – 72 hours, some pain or minor swelling may be expected, which can be reduced by painkillers. Placing an ice pack on the outside of your face in five minute intervals also helps decrease pain during the first 18 hours.
Your dentist or surgeon may prescribe you pain medications to help relieve pain. As some cause nausea, it is advisable to take these medications with plenty of clear liquid to prevent or decrease nausea.
During the recovery period, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene to avoid infection. The day after your surgery, you may:
- Use a soft toothbrush to gently clean all areas of your mouth except the wound
- Rinse your mouth frequently with warm salt water or antibacterial mouthwash
Your dentist may also prescribe antibiotics, which you should take as directed.
Typically, it takes about 3 - 5 days to recover from a wisdom teeth surgery. Your dentist may schedule a review 5 – 7 days after the surgery. During the visit, your dentist will remove your stitches and assess your wound.
Wisdom Teeth Surgery: Do I Need it?
Not all wisdom teeth need removal. As long as your wisdom teeth are fully functional, and you can brush and floss them properly, removal is unnecessary. Going for your regular dental checkups and cleaning also allows your dentist to monitor your wisdom teeth and recommend preventive treatments if needed.
If you experience pain or swelling around your wisdom teeth or if you suspect yourself having an impacted wisdom tooth, make an enquiry to find out more about the available treatment options.
About Raffles Dental
In Singapore, Raffles Dental provides a comprehensive range of services to prevent, diagnose and treat dental and oral diseases. Conveniently located island-wide, including Raffles Hospital, Holland Village, Woodlands, and Tampines, we are dedicated to providing the highest standard of professional care and service to our patients.