Ask almost anyone who has lived through it, and they will say that it did not take long for wisdom tooth pain to get on their nerves. Diagnosing the root cause of tooth pain is the best way to relieve it, and when it comes to wisdom teeth, the tooth is usually impacted.
Having a small jaw structure or simply being between 17 and 25 years old increases the likelihood of experiencing an impacted wisdom tooth.
Broadly defined, wisdom teeth are usually the last set of molars located in the back of the mouth and have the primary function of grinding food.
Most people start to see their wisdom teeth between 17-21 years of age. However, the eruption of the wisdom teeth may begin as early as age 13. If the wisdom teeth have not emerged by the age of 25, consult a dental health professional, especially if there is jaw pain or discomfort.
Early Humans and Wisdom Teeth
There are 32 teeth in an adult human mouth – 16 on both the top and bottom.
Why are wisdom teeth missing from some adult mouths? Some researchers believe that mouths changed as we evolved and changed diet, and consequently, people are more likely to experience difficulties with wisdom teeth.
Early humans needed a larger mouth to chew the raw meat and plants that were a part of their everyday diet. Human mouths continued to shrink over time, yet their bodies produce the same number of teeth, causing a crowding situation in the mouth.
Just as the early bird gets the worm, the first primary teeth that emerge from beneath the gums get the space in the mouth. The first permanent teeth start to come in around the age of 7, and since wisdom teeth are typically the final four (or more) to come in, many years later, they have the least amount of space to work with. This scenario contributes to misalignment, poor tooth health, and tooth pain and discomfort.
Understanding Erupted and Impacted Wisdom Tooth Extraction
If a wisdom tooth erupts, then it has fully emerged from the gum. If the tooth is impacted, it will be beneficial to have the tooth removed.
An impacted wisdom tooth is a tooth that remains stuck below the surface of the gums and continues to grow at an odd angle, impacting other areas of the mouth. This abnormal growth pattern has a good chance of causing complications with the healthy growth of other teeth or pressing on a nerve, causing pain or even nerve damage, lasting for a short time after removal or can stay permanently.
The dental health professional will provide a diagnosis after taking an x-ray of the mouth and decide to proceed with either a simple extraction or a more advanced surgical procedure. The tooth’s position within the gums will help with making that decision.
- Erupted Wisdom Tooth Extraction
If the tooth has erupted from the gum completely, this will be a relatively simple procedure. The dentist will first numb the gums with a local anesthetic (usually Lidocaine) to help reduce any feelings of pain.
The dentist will then loosen the tooth with a tool called an elevator before extracting the tooth from the gum using dental forceps.
Once the wisdom tooth is removed, the affected area of the mouth will need to be cleaned and packed with gauze to prevent further bleeding. The mouth will feel sore for a few days following the procedure, and there may be small amounts of bleeding during recovery time.
- Impacted Wisdom Tooth Extraction
If the wisdom tooth has not erupted or is only partially erupted, then a more advanced surgical extraction is likely required to remove the tooth. The information obtained from the x-ray will help with the diagnosis. Medication will be administered to help the patient sleep through this more intensive surgery.
The operating surgeon will cut into the gum, down to the root of the wisdom tooth. Once inside the gum, the surgeon might cut the tooth into smaller pieces to ensure the cut hole in the gum remains as small as possible. A smaller cut will heal more quickly and will carry a lower risk for infection.
Once the wisdom tooth has been entirely removed, and the affected area has been cleaned and bandaged, the recovery process begins.
If the removal procedure involves part of the bone, your dentist may prescribe OTC or prescription drugs after the surgery to help manage pain.
- Post-Procedure Care
The patient may be required to arrange for a ride home after either procedure.
For at least 24 hours following the procedure, avoid brushing and rinsing, if possible. Not disrupting the wound gives it time to heal.
Gargling with warm salt water multiple times per day will help with the healing process. It can also work to prevent infection by cleansing the surrounding area and between your other teeth. Other remedies and lifestyle adjustments after wisdom tooth removal include:
- Holding a cold pack on your face throughout the day to help with swelling.
- Avoiding spitting to ensure that the stitched-up or affected area inside the mouth is not disturbed.
- Drinking only water, and a lot of it, for at least 24 hours after the procedure. A healing body does not need sugar or alcohol.
- Sticking to soft foods that won’t impact the affected area inside the mouth. The jaw may take a few days to fully open, and softer foods will be easier to chew.
- Potential Wisdom Tooth Extraction Issues
Complications can occur as a result of the procedure. The most common complication is that the surgeon may inadvertently damage nerves inside the mouth, much like an impacted wisdom tooth can.
Nerve damage on the lower jaw can leave the lips, tongue, or chin permanently numb, while nerve damage on the upper jaw may damage the sinuses.
Additionally, if the blood clot goes away too quickly before the healing process can finish, it can leave your nerves and bone exposed to the air. Another term for this is dry socket.
Outside of nerve damage or dry socket, a dental health professional should be consulted in any of the following scenarios:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- The affected area continues to bleed or emit a discharge
- Facial swelling has not subsided
- Fever develops
- Consistent numbness
These issues are also possible after simple or advanced procedures.
The Symptoms and Signs of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth
Choosing not to remove impacted wisdom teeth can have health-related consequences. The strange growth pattern of these teeth include:
- Jaw pain
- Lesions or abnormal tissue growth
- Swollen gums
- Bleeding gums
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Bone loss around roots of teeth
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Not enough room to brush or floss appropriately
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
Ignoring Dental Health? Where’s the Wisdom in That?
Some dentists or oral surgeons will recommend removing wisdom teeth as a preventative measure before these undesirable ailments occur. Early wisdom tooth removal offers additional oral health benefits, including preventing:
- Cyst growth, which would be responsible for bone loss in the jaw.
- Damage to other teeth. If the wisdom tooth comes in sideways, it will disrupt the other teeth and their roots by pushing to make room, thus causing more damage inside the mouth.
- Additional bacteria from entering the mouth. The human mouth is already a dirty place and having wisdom teeth removed before the damage cycle begins will help prevent further germ buildup.
- Plaque buildup.
- Gum disease due to impacted wisdom teeth remaining and decaying in the gums.
- Pericoronitis, or swelling of your gums from an infected partially erupted wisdom tooth.
Keeping regular dentist appointments every 6-12 months allows the dentist to monitor any oral and tooth health changes.