Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to grow in the mouth. They usually erupt in the four corners of the mouth from the late teens to early 20s, but not everyone gets them. While most wisdom teeth don't cause problems, others can be very painful or cause other serious issues that need to be addressed.
If you have a problematic wisdom tooth, your dentist may discuss wisdom teeth removal or other treatments, depending on the individual case. Dentists sometimes recommend wisdom teeth removal as a preventive measure if there may be a high risk of problems when they come through.
Your dentist will make sure you have all the information about what wisdom tooth extraction involves so you can make an informed decision about your treatment. Read this overview to find out more about:
- When might a wisdom tooth need to be removed?
- When to see a dentist
- Early wisdom teeth removal
- How are wisdom teeth removed?
- Is it safe to remove wisdom teeth?
- Recovery from wisdom tooth removal
- Alternatives to removing a wisdom tooth
When might a wisdom tooth need to be removed?
It's normal to have some pain and discomfort when any new tooth comes through, but if a wisdom tooth is very painful, this could be a sign of a problem.
Your dentist can examine your mouth and take x-rays to determine whether wisdom tooth removal is necessary or if other treatments such as antibiotics or antiseptic mouthwash should be tried first.
Generally, wisdom teeth removal may be recommended if the tooth's position or condition means it will not be a functional tooth, or if it has a high risk of causing problems.
Common wisdom tooth problems include:
A wisdom tooth that's impacted is partly trapped in the gum. It may be covered by a flap of tissue or erupt at an angle that causes it to push against surrounding teeth or bone.
An impacted tooth may cause pain or damage to other teeth. It can also trap food and bacteria and make the area harder to brush and floss, increasing the risk of dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease. A tooth that's trapped inside the gum may also lead to infections.
A wisdom tooth may not fully emerge from the gum if there isn't enough space in your mouth or the tooth is too short. This can lead to an unbalanced bite and a risk of gum infections if the tooth below the gumline scratches or irritates the gum tissue.
A wisdom tooth may also grow longer than the surrounding teeth. This can also lead to an unbalanced bite and may scratch or injure the cheek, gum or other soft tissues it contacts. In some cases, your dentist may be able to reduce the length of the tooth rather than removing it.
If your jaw is not large enough to support any more teeth, a wisdom tooth can put pressure on the neighbouring teeth and may push them out of proper alignment. This could lead to a number of problems further down the line, including:
- affecting your ability to chew and grind food
- irritation or ulcers of the cheek
- teeth grinding or TMJ disorders
If crowding is not prevented by extracting a wisdom tooth ahead of time, crooked teeth may require long-term orthodontic treatment to correct.
An impacted or partly erupted wisdom tooth may cause an infection or other serious problem in the gum or surrounding areas, such as:
- Pericoronitis – an infection of the gum around a partially erupted tooth
- Cellulitis – an infection of the tongue, throat or cheek
- Dental cyst – a small growth on the gum next to the tooth that may develop into an abscess
- Dental abscess – a serious infection of the tooth or surrounding tissues
Signs that you might have a wisdom tooth infection can include:
- red or swollen gum around the tooth
- bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
- pus or discharge from the gum
- swollen lymph nodes under the jaw
- difficulty moving your jaw or swallowing
When to see a dentist
Your dentist will monitor the development of your wisdom teeth and look for any signs of problems during your regular check-up. However, you should also make an appointment if a wisdom tooth is causing you pain or if you have other unusual symptoms, such as swelling or signs of a possible infection.
Your dentist will examine your mouth and take x-rays so they can see the size, position and angle of wisdom teeth in your mouth. Dentists are experienced in wisdom tooth extraction and will recommend when extraction may be the best option for your health and to protect your existing teeth.
Early wisdom teeth removal
Early wisdom tooth assessment for teenagers can identify wisdom tooth problems before they have a chance to develop and cause damage. This can be especially beneficial for people with a small jaw or who have had an injury or surgery to their jaw that may increase their risk of wisdom tooth problems.
Some dentists offer wisdom teeth removal at this stage as a preventive measure. Early wisdom teeth removal can be an easier procedure with a lower risk of complications, as the wisdom teeth are smaller and still forming.
Wisdom tooth removal is sometimes recommended as a preventive measure if you're planning to get pregnant, which can cause swelling of the gums around wisdom teeth. Whatever the reason, wisdom teeth removal is always a personal choice.
How are wisdom teeth removed?
Your dentist will examine your mouth and use x-rays to plan your treatment. The wisdom teeth removal procedure may be straightforward or complex, depending on the position and status of the tooth.
You will normally be given a local anaesthetic so you don't feel pain during the extraction. Your dentist may offer other types of sedation if you are having a more complex extraction, several wisdom teeth are being removed at once or you have dental anxiety.
For wisdom teeth that have fully erupted, your dentist may be able to perform a general extraction. The tooth is gently rocked back and forth to loosen it, then removed using forceps. This is most common for wisdom teeth in the upper jaw.
For wisdom teeth that are partly impacted in the gum or are difficult to access, your dentist may need to break up the tooth and remove it in pieces. They may also need to make an incision to open the gum or may need to remove some surrounding bone tissue.
If the extracted tooth leaves a large socket, this will be stitched closed to prevent infections. Your dentist may use dissolving stitches or you may need another appointment to have them removed.
Is it safe to remove wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth removal is a common dental procedure that has minimal risks when it's carried out by a qualified and experienced dentist and when you follow their aftercare instructions. However, it's still important to know what these risks are.
Complications of wisdom tooth extraction can include:
- Infection – this may be treated with antibiotics and is more likely if you smoke
- Dry socket – a treatable condition where the empty tooth socket doesn't heal properly, which can cause pain and bad breath
- Nerve damage – usually temporary, this may cause numbness or tingling in the mouth
If you have any unexpected side effects after wisdom tooth removal, contact your dental clinic to see if you need an emergency dentist.
Recovery from wisdom tooth removal
It can take from a few days to a week to recover from your treatment, depending on how complex the extraction is and whether sedation is used. You can improve your chance of a smooth recovery by following your dentist's advice, which might include:
- taking time off work or school
- taking pain relief medication
- using an ice pack or cold compress to reduce swelling
- eating soft foods for the first few days
- holding warm salt water in your mouth after meals (not during the first 24 hours)
- not smoking for at least 48 hours after wisdom tooth surgery
- not drinking alcohol
- taking any antibiotics or other medication prescribed
Alternatives to removing a wisdom tooth
Wisdom teeth don't always have to be removed, even if they're causing an infection. If you would prefer to keep a wisdom tooth and it's not likely to cause long-term problems, your dentist may recommend other options such as:
- pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling
- antibiotics or salt water rinses to treat an infection
- removing the gum tissue covering an impacted tooth
- removing the crown of a wisdom tooth rather than the whole tooth
- reducing the size of an over-erupted wisdom tooth
- improving your oral hygiene and visiting the dentist for hygiene treatments
Book a wisdom tooth check-up in Brisbane
If you're worried about your wisdom teeth or want to know more about what extraction involves, contact our team at Face Value Dental to book a consultation with our dentists in Brisbane CBD, Albert Street, Toowong, Helensvale or Albany Creek.
Better Health Channel. Wisdom teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed August 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/wisdom-teeth
Healthdirect. Removing wisdom teeth [Online] 2020 [Accessed August 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/surgery/removing-wisdom-teeth
Healthdirect. Wisdom teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed August 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/wisdom-teeth