Wisdom teeth are the third-last permanent molars. Most people have four wisdom teeth, two in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw. These teeth are commonly called wisdom teeth because they usually erupt between the ages of 16 to 21, known as the ‘age of wisdom’. A wisdom tooth is impacted when it is obstructed from erupting fully into the mouth by the tooth in front of it or the surrounding bone or gums.
Improperly erupted wisdom teeth are breeding grounds for bacteria and may cause tooth decay, sometimes even affecting the neighbouring teeth. Infection of the overlying gums can take place as well, resulting in pain and swelling.
More serious problems such as the formation of cysts or tumours around an impacted tooth can occur, leading to destruction of the surrounding jawbone and neighbouring teeth. These conditions may require complex and extensive treatment. As problems can develop silently, without your knowledge, a check-up with your dentist is thus advisable.
Your initial visit to the dentist would include an examination of your mouth and X-rays as appropriate to determine the position of the wisdom teeth, their condition and the status of the adjacent teeth and bone.
To prevent problems associated with impacted wisdom teeth, it can sometimes be advisable to remove them early. The best time to remove them varies but is often easier if done before the roots of the teeth are fully formed and firmly embedded in the jawbone. Healing is also better during this period, with less risk of complications. However, they can be removed at any age should it be necessary.
If the degree of impaction is relatively mild it is a minor surgical procedure that can usually be performed with little discomfort under local anaesthetic. However in more complex cases it may be necessary to refer you to an oral surgeon, when it may be done under general anaesthetic.
The surgery involves uncovering the tooth by lifting the overlying gums aside to expose the tooth and bone. The tooth may need to be sectioned in order to remove it. The gums are then stitched back.
After surgery, some minor bleeding from the wound can be expected, which can be controlled by biting on a piece of gauze over the operation area for about half an hour. Facial swelling and discolouration of the overlying skin will also develop, increasing for the first 72 hours and subsiding thereafter. You may not be able to open your mouth as wide as usual for a few days.
Painkillers, antibiotics and an antiseptic mouthwash are usually prescribed after the surgery. You will be advised to maintain good oral hygiene and also to keep to a soft diet for a few days following surgery.
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