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Where's the Wisdom in Wisdom Teeth?

Although they're called wisdom teeth, many people don't see any wisdom in them. Often these teeth are troublemakers that decide to turn crooked, refuse to grow in completely, or become misshapen.

Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the rearmost teeth on each side of your top and bottom jaws. Commonly, they arrive between ages 17 and 21.

Because these teeth arrive last, they may enter a jaw that is already crowded. As a result, the last teeth in usually don't get a seat on your gums. And if they do manage to squeeze in, often little or none of each tooth rises above the gums, becoming what dental professionals call impacted. There are a number of possible risks associated with leaving impacted wisdom teeth, such as infection of the gum and surrounding bone.

Impacted teeth don't always cause problems, but it is important to visit your dentist regularly so that he or she can monitor their arrival.

If you do need to have your wisdom teeth removed, it's best to do that before they start bothering you. The optimum time for removal is as soon as possible after the dentist tells you they aren’t growing in straight. This helps ensure the quickest and easiest healing.

Keep your semiannual dental appointments because even before wisdom teeth emerge, they show up on X-rays. Your dentist can tell if there's going to be enough room and if they're going to cause problems.

What to Expect

If you do need your wisdom teeth removed, here's what the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons says you can expect:

  • You will receive local anesthesia (an injection into the gums), intravenous sedation, or general anesthesia for the surgery.

  • If it’s necessary to remove all four wisdom teeth, it can be done in one sitting. The procedure is performed on an out-patient basis in an oral surgeon’s office and usually takes about one hour.

  • You will spend some time in recovery before going home.

  • You will need a companion to drive you home.

  • You will have some bleeding and will have to bite gently on gauze for a few hours after surgery.

  • You will have swelling for the first 48 to 72 hours, but ice packs will help keep it down.

  • You may have some skin discoloration during healing, first black-blue, then turning yellow, and disappearing in a few days.

  • You may have some pain for several days following surgery. Your health care provider will prescribe appropriate pain medication.

  • In most cases, you can resume your normal activities within a few days.

“Wisdom Teeth.” American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. www.aaoms.org/conditions-and-treatments/wisdom-teeth Accessed 2013.

"Wisdom Teeth." Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/w/wisdom-teeth.aspx Accessed 2013.

“Wisdom Tooth Extraction." Oral Care, WebMD. www.webmd.com/oral-health/wisdom-tooth-extraction Accessed 2013.

“What Are Wisdom Teeth?” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry. www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article Accessed 2013.

"Wisdom Tooth Extraction." Mayo Clinic. www.mayoclinic.com/health/wisdom-tooth-extraction/MY01212/DSECTION=what-you-can-expect Accessed 2013.

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