What are Wisdom Teeth?

Dr Poonam Sachdev
Oral Health ConditionsWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Jan 17, 2013Updated at: Jan 17, 2013
What are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth or the third molars are the last teeth to come out or erupt. There is one wisdom tooth on each side of the jaw. They usually erupt after the person is 16 years old, most commonly between the age of 16-20 years. As these are the last permanent teeth to erupt they often cause problem. In many people there is often not adequate space left in the mouth to accommodate them. This can cause impaction of the wisdom tooth (teeth which get trapped below the gum tissue by the bone or another tooth). Impacted tooth can cause swelling and tenderness. In some people these teeth erupt partially or erupt in a curved manner. This can lead to painful crowding of teeth. According to the American Dental Association you should get your dental examination between 16 and 19 to evaluate if the wisdom tooth needs to be removed. In this age the roots are less developed and there are fewer complications while extraction.

How are Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Teeth extraction usually is a relatively routine procedure. But wisdom tooth/teeth extraction is not as simple as extracting other teeth. Your dentist (general dentist or a dental specialist, called an oral surgeon) will either give you general anesthesia (put you to sleep) or local anesthesia and numb the area in your mouth and extract the tooth. At times all the wisdom tooth may need extraction. After removing the tooth you will be advised to bite softly on a piece of gauze for about 30 to 45 minutes. This is done to limit any bleeding that can possibly occur.

After extraction your cheeks may swell. You may find eating and opening your mouth difficult. Follow your dentist's advice to curtail problems. You can have some pain and swelling for a few days. This is usually responds well to simple analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Consult your dentist if you have persistent bleeding, lingering or severe pain, swelling or fever. Extraction of wisdom teeth usually does not affect your bite or oral health. At times extraction may cause complications. At times even if the impacted tooth is not causing problems your dentist may recommend that the tooth be extracted to avoid problems in future.


Serious Infections

Serious infections of the head and neck which have spread from the teeth are treated by specialist dentist called oral and maxillofacial surgeons. They treat infections of the salivary glands, sinuses and infections after trauma as well.

Common causes of such infections are;

  • Infection from pulp of the tooth spreads to the bone or soft tissue.
  • In an impacted or partially erupted wisdom tooth bacteria and food debris can accumulate under the flap of gum covering the tooth and cause infection. This infection can spread to surrounding tissue.
  • Infection after tooth is extraction can spread to surrounding tissue.
  • Infection from severe periodontal (gum) diseases may spread to surrounding tissue. 

Symptoms of serious infection in the teeth and surrounding tissue include;

  • Pain and swelling in the gums
  • Swelling on face on the affected side
  • Difficulty opening the mouth due to pain or muscle spasms in the jaw
  • Redness in the concerned area and fever.

Consult your dentist if you have any of these symptoms. If the infection is limited to the tooth/teeth, gums your dentist may treat it. But if the infection is severe or extensive he or she will refer you to oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

The aim of treatment is to remove the infection ----usually done by removing the infected tooth and if required incising the overlying tissue to remove the pus. The pus will be sent for testing to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection. You will given be antibiotics according the type of bacteria causing the infection and pain medication to ...