Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth and What Situations Warrant Their Removal?

Wisdom teeth – the third molars located in the very back of your mouth – are the last of all teeth to emerge through the gum line, and typically come in between the ages of 17 and 25 when people are entering adulthood and thought to be growing wiser (hence the name “wisdom teeth”).

While many dental professionals recommend having your wisdom teeth removed as soon as they come in just to prevent complications down the road, it’s not always necessary. In fact, one study found that of the estimated 10 million wisdom teeth removed from five million people each year, as many as 60 percent did not actually need to be removed.

If you believe or have been told you should have your wisdom teeth pulled, it’s important to understand why we have these teeth in the first place as well as the various problems/circumstances that may require their removal. Here’s a brief overview of what you need to know.

What’s the Purpose of Wisdom Teeth?

By the time they reach 18, most people (95 percent) in the U.S. have one or more erupted wisdom tooth; however the likelihood of these teeth being healthy and functional is slim to none. But if these third molars serve little to no purpose for millions of people, why do we have them at all?

It is believed our early human ancestors required this third, extra row of molars to chew their particularly coarse diet, which consisted primarily of hard nuts, roots and uncooked meats. Today, human diets not only consist of softer foods, but most of the cutting work is done by cutlery. Human jawbones have also become significantly smaller over time, leaving many people with no room to accommodate these extra teeth and no choice but to have them surgically removed.

When Is Wisdom Teeth Removal Necessary?

If your wisdom teeth are healthy, fully emerged, properly positioned and capable of being cleaned/maintained in accordance with daily best hygiene practices, you probably won’t need to have them removed. However, if any of the following problems are discovered, it is highly likely your dentist will recommend having your wisdom teeth extracted:

  • You experience pain in/around the gums surrounding your wisdom teeth.
  • There isn’t enough space in your mouth to accommodate newly erupted wisdom teeth.
  • Your wisdom teeth come in crooked, which could cause all your other, well-aligned teeth to shift and move over time.
  • A cyst (fluid-filled sac) develops around the wisdom teeth, which could potentially destroy surrounding bone and/or tooth roots.
  • The wisdom teeth remain hidden beneath the gums, unable to erupt normally, which can occasionally result in infection or the development of a cyst.
  • The wisdom teeth emerge only partially from the gums, making the area particularly difficult to clean and therefore more susceptible to bacteria, infection, etc.

Expert Wisdom Teeth Removal in Greater Louisville

Deciding whether or not you should have your wisdom teeth removed is not always simple. We encourage you to contact the friendly, compassionate team of dental surgeons at Greater Louisville Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Associates to schedule an appointment today. We’ll perform an in-depth evaluation of your wisdom teeth, listen carefully to your situation and concerns, answer any questions you may have and thoroughly explain all your options, so you can feel confident you’ve made the decision that’s best for you.

How to Survive Wisdom Tooth Extraction

Dentists say having your wisdom teeth removed is a smart idea, but if you’re not feeling particularly wise after the extraction, you’re not alone. It’s normal for you to be uncomfortable for the first few days after the procedure; expect some pain and swelling. But fear not! These tips can help you survive the ordeal and come out the other side smiling.

Talk to Your Surgeon Beforehand

No matter how common it may seem, wisdom tooth extraction is still a form of surgery. It’s very important to learn as much about the process as possible. Get to know your surgeon, especially if the procedure will be your first time meeting with them. No question is a dumb one so ask as many as you can think of. Your comfort before, during and after the operation is top priority.

Plan Ahead

Again, this is surgery we’re talking about. You’ll most likely be put under anesthesia for the procedure and will be in no condition to do basically anything when they discharge you afterwards. Make sure someone can pick you up and have a space set up at home to spend the next few days of recovery. Many people try to schedule their operation on a Thursday or Friday so they can be back to work or school by Monday. If you haven’t already, let your supervisors or professors know that you’ll be out of commission for a while.

Watch Your Diet

You probably won’t feel up to eating solid foods for at least the first 24-48 hours after surgery. Expect to drink a lot of liquids before moving up to softer things, like pudding and gelatin, and then consider returning to your normal diet. If nothing else, use this time as an excuse to eat as much ice cream as you can handle! It’s also best to avoid using straws; the suction required to get drinks into your mouth will be much more uncomfortable than you expect, and increases the risk of painful dry sockets.

Get Some Rest

No matter how quickly you want to jump back into school or work, getting rest is the only thing that will ensure you heal properly. Expect to spend at least the first few days in bed, or on your couch, sleeping and relaxing. Even if you’re not particularly tired, don’t overexert yourself. Take time to finish that show you’ve been watching, beat that level you were stuck on or finish that novel you’ve been meaning to get to.

Follow up with Aftercare

It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself after you’ve left the surgeon’s office. Follow whatever instructions the doctor has recommended. You might not feel like opening your mouth, but slowly stretching your jaw every once in a while will prevent it from stiffening up. The day after surgery, begin regularly rinsing your mouth with a mixture of salt and warm water. This will reduce swelling and pain. You can also alternate between cold and heat packs to soothe any discomfort.

It might not be the most enjoyable process, but getting your wisdom teeth removed is a battle everyone can win. If you have any more questions about the procedure or would like to schedule an appointment, contact us.