Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

At Associated Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, we meet with many patients who are experiencing pain or discomfort from their wisdom teeth. Often, these patients have a simple question: Why do we have wisdom teeth, anyway?

In previous iterations of human evolution, wisdom teeth were actually extremely useful. The human diet was once dominated by chewy plants and uncooked meats, which required a high level of chewing power. Wisdom teeth provided this power.

Today’s modern diets do not require the power of wisdom teeth, and yet a majority of the human population is born with them. Wisdom teeth typically erupt between ages 17 and 25. Because the human jaw has gotten smaller compared with previous generations, these wisdom teeth can often lead to overcrowding and other forms of discomfort.

Do You Really Have to Get Your Wisdom Teeth Removed?

It is not always necessary to have wisdom teeth removed. In some cases, they can be healthy and properly positioned to avoid any problems with the other teeth. In most cases, however, wisdom teeth removal may be imperative.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Sometimes, wisdom teeth remain hidden within the gums. If they are unable to erupt and become trapped within the gum tissue (impacted), this can lead to potential problems, including infection. In extreme cases, impacted wisdom teeth can cause cysts, which may damage other teeth. For these reasons, impacted wisdom teeth generally need to be removed.

Prevent Future Dental Problems

Another reason to remove wisdom teeth is that, by leaving them in, you may leave the door open to future dental problems. For example, the average smile will not have enough room in it to accommodate the emerging wisdom teeth. Even without impaction, the smile can become overcrowded and misaligned, risking the health of the other permanent teeth and your own comfort while chewing. Also, because of this same overcrowding, the smile becomes much more difficult to keep clean with your daily hygiene habits. The wisdom teeth, along with the rest of your smile, are even more susceptible to tooth decay once those third molars emerge.

Signs Your Wisdom Teeth Need to Be Removed

There are several signs and symptoms that suggest the need for wisdom teeth removal. These signs include:

  • You experience significant pain and sensitivity in the back of your mouth.
  • You have inflammation around your gums.
  • You notice persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.
  • You have developed cysts around the wisdom tooth.
  • Your jaw is stiff or sore.

Should I Have All of My Wisdom Teeth Taken Out at Once?

Some of our patients come to us expressing pain or discomfort associated with just one of their wisdom teeth. As such, these patients wonder whether it is necessary to have all of their wisdom teeth taken out at once. Even if it is not necessary, our doctors recommended this approach just the same.

The reason for this is simple. If you have all of your wisdom teeth removed at once, then you only need to have one surgery. If you only have one removed, you run the risk of developing additional wisdom teeth problems later, requiring another surgery. By having all of your wisdom teeth removed at once, you can cut down on the cost, inconvenience, and recovery time required.

What to Expect from Wisdom Teeth Removal

The best way to learn about the wisdom teeth removal process, and to ask any specific questions you may have, is to meet with our doctors. Here is some more generalized guidance about what wisdom teeth removal entails.

Preparing for the Procedure

Wisdom tooth removal is almost always performed as an outpatient procedure. Because anesthesia is used, it is necessary for you to have someone available to drive you home once the procedure is over. Additionally, it is advised that you have any pain medication prescriptions filled in advance so that you can simply head home to rest and recover once the procedure is over.

During the Procedure

Depending on the expected complexity of the wisdom tooth extraction, our doctors may use one of three different kinds of anesthesia: Local anesthesia, sedation anesthesia, or general anesthesia.

During the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision, removing the bone surrounding your wisdom tooth. The bone is removed, the tooth is segmented, and then each segment is removed. The wound site is cleaned and stitched close to expedite healing.

How Long Does the Procedure Take?

The timeframe for a wisdom tooth removal varies depending on the complexity of the extraction and the number of teeth being taken out. A good rule of thumb is that the procedure takes about 45 minutes.

Immediately After the Procedure

If local anesthesia is used in your procedure, you will likely sit in the dental chair for a few minutes to recover. If sedation anesthesia or general anesthesia is used, however, then you may be taken to a recovery room. Feeling will return to your mouth gradually, and there will likely also be some swelling.

The Pain

On the day of your surgery, you can anticipate some pain and bleeding. Between an ice pack and pain medications, it is usually easy to minimize the pain and to keep swelling at bay.

The Wisdom Teeth Removal Recovery Process

Following a wisdom teeth removal surgery, you will need to give your body some time to rest and recover. Most patients feel as though they are “back to normal” within one to two weeks. While the timeline may vary by patient, it generally looks something like this:

The Wisdom Teeth Recovery Timeline

  • First 24 hours: Blood clot formation, along with some pain and swelling.
  • First two to three days: Steady improvement of swelling and reduction of pain.
  • One week: Any remaining stitches can be removed.
  • Seven to 10 days: Any remaining stiffness and soreness should go away.
  • Two weeks: Any lingering bruising of the face should abate.

With specific questions about the recovery timeline, feel free to contact our doctors at your convenience.

How Long Should I Expect to Be Out of School or Work?

It is a good idea to plan to stay home from school or work (and to avoid driving) for at least one or two days following wisdom teeth removal surgery.

What Can I Do to Manage the Pain?

To manage pain, ask your doctor about the use of prescription or over-the-counter pain medications. Additionally, try sticking to a mild, soft diet for a few days following the procedure.

If wisdom teeth are emerging in your smile or your child’s smile, reach out to our convenient location today to schedule a talk with our oral surgeons.