Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that most people get in their late teens or even early twenties. Sometimes these teeth can be a valuable asset to the mouth when healthy and properly aligned. However, they are more often misaligned and require removal. If wisdom teeth are misaligned, they may position themselves horizontally, be angled toward or away from the second molars, or be angled inward or outward. Moreover, poor alignment of wisdom teeth can crowd or damage adjacent teeth, the jawbone, or nerves.
Wisdom teeth can also be impacted. They are enclosed within the soft tissue or the jawbone or only partially break through or erupt through the gum. Partial eruption of the wisdom teeth allows an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection, which results in pain, swelling, jaw stiffness, and general illness. Partially erupted teeth are also more prone to tooth decay and gum disease because their location and awkward positioning makes brushing and flossing very difficult.
Room to Grow?
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/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 direct place to grow.
- Wisdom teeth that haven’t come in properly 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.
Problems with wisdom teeth
When there is not enough room in the jaw for wisdom teeth, it can stop them coming through properly. Brushing these teeth can be very difficult. Food and bacteria can get stuck between the wisdom tooth and the tooth next to it. This can further lead to tooth decay and gum infections. Crowded wisdom teeth in the upper jaw often lean sideways and rub against the cheek. This may cause ulcers on the cheek and chewing problems.
Impacted wisdom teeth don't always cause symptoms. However, when an impacted wisdom tooth becomes infected, damages other teeth or causes other dental problems, you may experience some of these signs or symptoms:
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Jaw pain
- Swelling around the jaw
- An unpleasant taste in your mouth
- Difficulty opening your mouth
How are impacted wisdom teeth treated?
If you’re impacted wisdom teeth cause symptoms or dental problems, your dentist may suggest taking them out. Surgery to remove wisdom teeth is usually an outpatient procedure. A dentist or oral surgeon performs the operation, which is known as wisdom tooth extraction. As part of the procedure, your doctor may use anesthetic drugs to induce a type of anesthesia, such as:
- local anesthesia to numb your mouth
- sedation anesthesia to relax you and block pain
- general anesthesia to make you sleep and not feel anything during the procedure
During the procedure, the surgeon will make a cut in your gums and take out problematic bone before removing the tooth. They’ll close the incision with stitches and pack the space with gauze. The entire surgery usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
An impacted wisdom tooth might not cause any problems at all. If you do have symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Having your wisdom teeth removed while younger may lead to better results. In any case, make sue to talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about treatment options if your wisdom tooth is impacted.