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What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the upper
and lower third molars, located at the very back of the mouth. They are called
wisdom teeth because usually they come in when a person is between age 17 and
21 or older—old enough to have gained some "wisdom." Wisdom teeth that are
healthy and properly positioned do not cause problems.
What causes problems with wisdom teeth?
may break partway through your gums, causing a flap of gum tissue to grow over
them where food can become trapped and a gum infection can develop. Wisdom
teeth can also come in crooked or facing the wrong direction. Or, if your jaw
is not large enough to give them room, wisdom teeth may become
impacted and unable to break through your gums. You
may have trouble properly cleaning around wisdom teeth because they are so far
in the back of your mouth and may be crowded.
What are the symptoms?
often cause no symptoms. Symptoms that may mean your wisdom teeth need to be
Most problems with wisdom teeth develop in people between
the ages of 15 and 25. Few people older than 30 develop problems that require
removal of their wisdom teeth.
How are problems with wisdom teeth diagnosed?
Your dentist will examine your
teeth and gums for signs of a wisdom tooth coming through your gum or crowding
other teeth. You will have
X-rays to find out whether your wisdom teeth are
causing problems now or are likely to cause problems in the future.
How are they treated?
The most common treatment for wisdom tooth problems is removal
(extraction) of the tooth. Experts disagree about whether to remove a wisdom
tooth that is not causing symptoms or problems. Oral surgeons generally agree
that removing a wisdom tooth is easier in younger people (usually before age 20), when the tooth's roots and the jawbone are not completely
developed. After age 20, the jawbone tends to get harder, and
healing typically takes longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about wisdom tooth problems:
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Wisdom teeth, whether they are
impacted or have broken through the gums, often cause
no symptoms. Symptoms that may mean your wisdom teeth are causing
problems and need to be removed include:
Your dentist will examine your teeth
and gums for signs of a wisdom tooth coming through your gum or crowding other
teeth. You will have
X-rays to see whether you have
problems with your wisdom teeth now or whether they
are likely to cause problems in the future.
The most common treatment for
wisdom tooth problems is removing the tooth (extraction). This involves opening the gum over the
tooth, removing the tooth, and closing the gum with stitches if needed.
Recovery usually takes just a few days.
Experts disagree about
whether to remove a wisdom tooth that is not causing obvious symptoms or
Wisdom teeth that are causing problems usually should
be extracted. An
oral or maxillofacial surgeon or your
dentist can remove wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth are as useful as any
other teeth if they come in properly and there is plenty of room in your mouth
for good dental care.
Talk to your dentist about whether to have
your wisdom teeth removed. You and your dentist may consider several things,
wisdom tooth is impacted or is emerging and causing
problems, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. While you are
waiting for treatment, you can relieve pain and swelling with home treatment.
Your dentist or surgeon may prescribe
antibiotics if you have an infection. Be sure to
take this medicine for the entire time prescribed. Healing the infection before the
tooth is removed makes the
extraction procedure easier and will reduce the risk
of problems after surgery.
After you have had a wisdom tooth
extracted, the recovery period in most cases is only a few days. Take
painkillers as needed, using the recommended dose. To help speed recovery and
prevent complications, such as a
dry socket, take the following steps:
The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS)
is an organization of dental surgeons who promote quality patient care and
education. The AAOMS provides public and patient information on dental surgery
and dental problems.
The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional
membership organization of practicing dentists, provides information about oral
health care for children and adults. The ADA can also help you find a dentist
in your area.
This Web site by the Academy of General Dentistry
provides information on dental care and oral hygiene.
CitationsCurran TJ (2004). Clinical decision-making for the patient with third molars. Texas Dental Journal, 121(11): 1062–1066.Bagheri SC, et al. (2007). Extraction versus nonextraction management of third molars. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America, 19: 15–21.Dodson TB, Susarla SM (2010). Impacted wisdom teeth,
search date August 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence:
http://www.clinicalevidence.com.Marciani RD (2007). Third molar removal: An overview of indications, imaging, evaluation, and assessment of risk. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America, 19: 1–13.Other Works ConsultedBagheri SC, et al. (2007). Extraction versus nonextraction management of third molars. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America, 19: 15–21.Haug RH, et al. (2009). Evidenced-based decision making: The third molar. Dental Clinics of North America, 53: 77–96.Kaminishi RM, Kaminishi KS (2004). New considerations in the treatment of compromised third molars. Journal of the California Dental Association, 32(10): 823–825.Slade GD, et al., (2004). The impact of third molar symptoms, pain, and swelling on oral health-related quality of life. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 62(9):1118–1124.
September 2, 2011
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
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