Get Wise on Wisdom Teeth

We’re returning this month with the lowdown on wisdom teeth.

A wisdom tooth is a third molar and is the furthest back of the three. The age they grow is variable, but generally occurs between late teens and early twenties. Most adults have four wisdom teeth - one in each quadrant. But it is possible to have none, or one to three. It’s also possible to have more than four - with these extras called supernumerary teeth.

Sometimes there is not enough space in the mouth for wisdom teeth to grow. This can lead to them causing discomfort and other issues. However, wisdom teeth do not always cause problems. If you have enough space in your mouth, they will likely grow without an issue. There may be some slight discomfort when they come through (think adult teething), but this is temporary.

Possible Problems

Wisdom teeth can lead to problems if there isn’t enough space for them to surface or they come through in the wrong position. If your dentist says your wisdom teeth are impacted, he or she means they are trapped in your jaw or under your gums.

As your wisdom teeth make their way through your gums, your dentist will be monitoring your mouth for signs of the following:

  • Wisdom teeth that aren’t in the right position can allow food to become trapped. That gives cavity-causing bacteria a place to grow.
  • Wisdom teeth that haven’t come in properly, which can make it difficult to floss between the wisdom teeth and the molars next to them.
  • Wisdom teeth that have partially come through can give bacteria a place to enter the gums and create a place for infection to occur. This may also lead to pain, swelling and stiffness in your jaw.
  • Wisdom teeth that don’t have room to come through are thought by some to crowd or damage neighbouring teeth.
  • A wisdom tooth that is impacted can form a cyst on or near the impacted tooth. This could damage the roots of nearby teeth or destroy the bone that supports your teeth.
Teeth X Ray

Relieving the Pain

You should make an appointment to see your dentist if your wisdom teeth are causing severe pain. They'll check your teeth and advise you whether they need to be removed.

If your dentist thinks you may need to have your wisdom teeth removed, they'll usually carry out an X-ray of your mouth. This gives them a clearer view of the position of your teeth.

As with any teeth problems, it's important to see your dentist as soon as possible, rather than waiting for your regular dental check-up.

Removing Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are not removed as regularly as they previously were, and dentists will only remove them if:

  • Infection or cavities
  • Lesions (abnormal looking tissue)
  • Damage to nearby teeth
  • Bone loss around roots
  • Not enough room to brush and floss around the tooth

If you are referred for wisdom tooth removal, the process will depend on whether your dentist takes them out in the surgery or refers you to hospital.

Wisdom teeth removal may lead to some swelling on your face and tenderness for a few days, but this discomfort will ease. Most patients eat liquid food after the operation as chewing can be difficult. The surgeon or dentist will advise you what pain relief medication would work best for you.

Wisdom Teeth Care

Even if you do not have to have them removed, wisdom teeth can cause issues later in life. Ensure you keep them clean with regular, thorough brushing and floss around them.