The four wisdom teeth are the last teeth to develop at the back of the mouth. They usually erupt in a person's late teen years to early twenties, though not everyone gets them.
Most wisdom teeth don't cause problems, beyond some discomfort, but wisdom tooth problems are still common. If any of your wisdom teeth are causing problems in your mouth, or are likely to, your dentist will usually recommend having them removed.
Dentists don't normally recommend extracting a tooth unless absolutely necessary, but wisdom teeth are the least important teeth for your health and the most likely to cause problems. Their purpose in nature is to replace molars that may have been lost by the time a person reaches adulthood, but modern dental care means they're no longer necessary.
Wisdom teeth removal is normally a corrective procedure to fix an existing problem, but dentists may also recommend removing a wisdom tooth as a preventive measure before problems have a chance to develop.
Common wisdom tooth problems
Wisdom teeth can cause a number of problems in the mouth, including infections, injuries and damage to the surrounding teeth. Common reasons for wisdom teeth removal are:
- Impacted tooth
- Gum infection
- Teeth crowding
- Crooked or misshapen tooth
- Tooth decay
- Sinus problems
An impacted wisdom tooth is one that's stuck inside the gum and can't erupt normally. This may be because it's growing at an angle and is trapped by another tooth or it may have developed too short. An impacted tooth can be painful and may irritate or injure the gum or surrounding teeth. Impacted wisdom teeth should be extracted to relieve the pain and prevent infections.
Gum infections can happen if a wisdom tooth is impacted inside the gum or if the open gum tissue around the erupting tooth traps food and bacteria. Infected gums are usually red, swollen and tender around the tooth and may bleed when you brush your teeth. Other signs of a gum infection can include bad breath, pus and fever.
Not everyone's jaws can accommodate four extra teeth on top of the 28 they already have. If you have a smaller jaw, there may not be enough space for wisdom teeth to erupt normally. This can lead to impaction or the new tooth putting pressure on the existing teeth, which may cause them to shift or become crooked, or rubbing against the cheek, which can lead to irritation and ulcers.
Crooked or misshapen tooth
If a wisdom tooth erupts at an angle or is crooked, this could trap food or bacteria between your teeth and make them harder to brush and floss. An angled wisdom tooth may also put pressure on the neighbouring teeth, cut into your cheek or lead to a misaligned bite.
Like any other teeth, wisdom teeth are susceptible to tooth decay if you don't clean the tooth properly. Their position at the very back of the mouth can make wisdom teeth harder to reach with a toothbrush and floss, so they can be more prone to oral health problems. If tooth decay isn't treated, this may lead to cavities, infections or more severe damage that may require a filling, root canal therapy or even an extraction.
Although less common, wisdom teeth in the upper jaw sometimes put pressure on the sinuses as they grow, causing pain, a blocked nose and headaches.
Preventive wisdom tooth removal
Wisdom teeth are normally removed when they're already causing problems, to relieve pain and prevent the problem from getting worse. However, there are some situations when dentists may recommend removing wisdom teeth without symptoms, to prevent problems from developing in the first place.
Early wisdom tooth removal may be recommended if:
- you have a small jaw and a wisdom tooth is likely to cause crowding when it comes through
- you're about to have orthodontic treatment, which is easier when there are fewer teeth to move
- you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, as swollen gums during pregnancy can make wisdom tooth problems more likely
- you're having jaw surgery
Wisdom teeth are easier to extract in your teens when the teeth and jaws are still developing, so your dentist may recommend preventive extractions at this age to avoid a more complex treatment later in life.
Wisdom teeth removal
If your wisdom teeth are causing problems, or they're likely to in the future, your dentist will explain what wisdom teeth extraction involves so you can decide if it's the right option for you. Find out more about:
- How are wisdom teeth removed?
- Is wisdom tooth removal painful?
- What to expect after wisdom tooth removal
- How much does it cost to remove wisdom teeth?
- Alternatives to wisdom tooth removal
How are wisdom teeth removed?
Your dentist will first examine your mouth and take x-rays to see the position and condition of your wisdom tooth and any other affected teeth and plan your treatment.
Local anaesthetic will be used to numb your mouth and stop you from feeling pain during the treatment. The procedure to remove wisdom teeth depends on where the tooth is located and how complex the extraction is.
- Some wisdom teeth – especially those in the upper jaw – may be removed through a general extraction. This involves gently rocking the tooth back and forth to loosen it and then pulling it from the jaw.
- More complex extractions – more common with lower wisdom teeth or an impacted tooth – can require surgery to open the gum, remove some of the supporting bone and break the tooth into smaller pieces to make it easier to remove.
If you're having more than one wisdom tooth removed, the procedures may be spread across a series of appointments to give your mouth time to heal in between. If you need multiple extractions at once, these may require general anaesthetic.
Is wisdom tooth removal painful?
Some people feel nervous about having their wisdom teeth removed, because they're worried the procedure is painful. But like most dental treatments, your dentist will use local anaesthesia to numb your mouth, so you'll only feel some pressure and no pain.
If you still feel anxious about your treatment, your dental clinic may offer more sedation options to help you relax while still remaining conscious. If your extraction is more complex, or you're having multiple wisdom teeth removed at once, you may need to be put to sleep during the procedure.
What to expect after wisdom tooth removal
Having a problematic wisdom tooth removed can relieve pain and discomfort, but your mouth will likely feel sore for a few days after the procedure. This can be relieved by taking painkiller medication and avoiding hard and chewy foods for a few days while your mouth heals. To help the healing process, you should also avoid smoking and alcohol.
Your mouth might bleed for a short time after treatment, but a blood clot will soon form. If this blood clot is disturbed and your gum doesn't heal properly, this can lead to a condition known as a dry socket, which can be painful and cause bad breath. If you notice anything unusual during your recovery, make an appointment with your dentist.
How much does it cost to remove wisdom teeth?
Your dentist can give you an estimate for the wisdom tooth removal cost during your consultation, but they need to examine your mouth and take x-rays before they can give you an accurate quote.
Wisdom tooth removal may be covered by health insurance, if you have dental cover, or you can ask your dental clinic whether they offer payment plans to help you break down a cost into instalments.
Alternatives to wisdom tooth removal
While extraction is normally the best solution for wisdom tooth problems, sometimes there are other options. These can include:
- taking painkillers or other pain relief options if wisdom tooth pain is temporary
- removing part of the gum around an impacted wisdom tooth
- removing the crown (top part) of the tooth only
- prescribing antibiotics and mouth rinsing to treat a gum infection
How to handle wisdom tooth pain
If your dentist thinks that your wisdom tooth pain is only temporary and you don't have a serious problem, they may recommend ways to relieve the pain at home and lower your risk of complications, such as:
- taking over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication to relieve swelling
- holding warm salt water in your mouth for two minutes, four times a day
- brushing the area over your wisdom tooth twice a day to prevent tooth decay
- making an emergency dentist appointment if the pain becomes severe
Wisdom teeth removal in the Gold Coast
If you think there might be a problem with your wisdom tooth, or you have any other pain or discomfort in your mouth, make an appointment to see our dentists at Robina Town Dental.
Call us today on (07) 5575 9100 or visit us in Robina Town Shopping Centre. We'll schedule your appointment with a Gold Coast dentist at a time that suits you.
Better Health Channel. Wisdom teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed October 2020] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/wisdom-teeth
Healthdirect. Wisdom teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed October 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/wisdom-teeth
Healthdirect. Removing wisdom teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed October 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/surgery/removing-wisdom-teeth