By age eighteen, the average adult has 32 teeth—16 on the top and 16 on the bottom— each with a specific name and function. The teeth in the front of the mouth (incisors, canines and bicuspids) are ideal for grasping and biting food into smaller pieces. The back teeth (molars) are used to grind food up into a consistency suitable for swallowing.
The average adult mouth has room for only 28 teeth and it can be painful when 32 teeth try to fit into that space. The four additional teeth are your third molars, also known as “wisdom teeth.”
Is Removal of Wisdom Teeth Necessary?
Wisdom teeth are the last to erupt. When they align properly and gum tissue is healthy, wisdom teeth do not have to be removed. Unfortunately, this does not generally happen.
The extraction of wisdom teeth is necessary when they are prevented from properly erupting. They may grow sideways, partially emerge from the gum, and even remain trapped beneath the gum and bone. Impacted teeth can take many positions in the bone as they attempt to find a pathway that will allow them to erupt successfully.
These poorly positioned impacted teeth can cause many problems. When they are partially erupted, the opening around the tooth allows bacteria to grow and will eventually cause an infection, resulting in swelling, stiffness in the jaw, pain and illness. The pressure from the erupting wisdom tooth may move other teeth and disrupt the orthodontic or natural alignment of teeth. The most serious problem occurs when tumors or cysts form around the impacted wisdom tooth, resulting in the destruction of the jawbone and healthy teeth.
Removal of the offending impacted tooth or teeth usually resolves these problems. Early removal is recommended to avoid future problems and to decrease the surgical risk involved with the procedure.
With an oral examination and x-rays of the mouth, our doctors can evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and predict if there may be present or future problems. Studies have shown that early evaluation and treatment result in a superior outcome for the patient. Patients are generally first evaluated in the mid-teenage years by their dentist, orthodontist or by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
All outpatient surgery is performed under appropriate anesthesia to maximize patient comfort. In most cases, the removal of wisdom teeth is performed under local anesthesia, laughing gas (nitrous oxide/oxygen analgesia), or IV sedation. These options, as well as the potential surgical risks, will be discussed with you before the procedure is performed. Upon discharge, you will receive postoperative instructions, prescriptions for pain medication and antibiotics, and possibly a follow-up appointment in one week for suture removal.