What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth is a term often used to reference the 3rd molars, which are the last set of molars found in the very back of the mouth in a complete dentition. These teeth usually begin erupting through the gums in the late teens to early twenties, however very often they become impacted and may or may not erupt. Impaction is when the teeth become stuck against something else, either bone, adjacent teeth, or gum tissue. Impaction occurs when there is insufficient room for the 3rd molar to erupt and is commonly found in many people's jaw. In some cases, one or more of the 3rd molars may not even develop, or in very rare instances, there may be more than the normal four 3rd molars. The number, location, and position of the wisdom teeth are determined with an x-ray as seen below.
Figure 1: Fully erupted 3rd molars
Figure 2: Horizontally impacted lower 3rd molars
Figure 3: Partially developed 3rd molars
Figure 4: Lower right 3rd molar impinging on the IA nerve
Why Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?
Most people will find that their wisdom teeth do not fully erupt through the gums and into a position where they help with chewing. There are several types of impaction that you may heard of describing wisdom teeth.
- Soft Tissue Impacted - The tooh is out of the bone, but still partially covered by the gum tissue.
- Partial Bony Impacted - The tooth is partly out of the bone, often with a portion of the tooth caught against a ledge of bone.
- Full Bony Impacted - The tooth is completely covered within the jaw bone.
Depending on the level of impaction, wisdom teeth can cause a variety of conditions with both soft and hard tissue. Soft tissue conditions include chronic low grade infections under the gums and around the teeth, chronic ulcerations, and difficulty opening. Hard tissue conditions include periodontal disease, abscess, permanent bone loss, tooth decay, and/or loss of the neighboring second molar. If you experience any of the following symptoms around your 3rd molars, contact our office immediately for treatment.
- Cheek biting
- Swelling of the gums or jaw
- Gum tissue sores that do not heal after 14 days
- Sudden limited opening of the jaw
- A bad taste and/or odor
- Dark coloration or holes in the 3rd molars
- Angled or improperly positioned wisdom tooth
When Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?
As you enter into your 20's most people's wisdom teeth will be fully developed. This means that the roots are full size and anchoring themselves within the jaw. Each patient's situation is unique however. Only after having a panoramic Xray and exam can the full development of your wisdom teeth be determined. When you enter your 30's, 40's, 50+, the wisdom teeth become progressively more difficult to remove due to changes in bone elasticity and density. As this happens, they can require more significant surgery to remove them. This also means a longer recovery time, higher chance of surgical complication, delayed healing, nerve damage, and even jaw fracture. For this reason, removal of the wisdom teeth is recommended in the earlier decades of life, before any symptoms or pain develop.
How Are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
The actual surgical technique to remove a wisdom tooth will depend on whether or not it is impacted and what level of anesthesia is being used during the surgery. Generally, most wisdom tooth removal surgeries are completed under IV sedation. Once adequate sedation is established, local anesthetic is delivered to fully numb the teeth to be removed. Then the teeth are exposed from under the gums or bone (if they are impacted) or elevated and gently removed if they are already erupted. Sutures are used to secure the gum tissue in the event the teeth are impacted, otherwise they generally are not needed after removing teeth that are erupted.
What Do I Need To Do After A Wisdom Tooth Extraction?
Once your wisdom teeth have been extracted, the healing process begins. Healing time varies depending on the degree of difficulty related to the extraction. After your surgery, Dr. Kenner and a Team member review post-op and home care instructions with you, and discuss what to expect over the next several hours and days.
Contact Our Office in Burien, WA
Are you experiencing gum tenderness, swelling or severe pain near the back of your mouth? Or are you considering having your wisdom teeth removed before you have any of these issues? If so, please contact us as soon as possible to schedule an exam with Dr. Kenner. If you have any other questions regarding wisdom teeth that are not answered here, please also feel free to contact us and one of our friendly Team members will be glad to assist you. We proudly serve residents of Burien, WA and the surrounding communities with Cosmetic, Restorative, and General dental care including Cleanings, Fillings, Dental Implants, Veneers, Teeth Whitening and more. We look forward to helping you achieve and maintain a healthy, happy mouth!