Wisdom teeth are molars found in the very back of your mouth. They usually appear in the late teens or early twenties but may become impacted (fail to erupt) due to lack of room in the jaw or angle of entry. The most common type of impacted wisdom tooth is “mesial,” which means the tooth is angled forward toward the front of your mouth.
When a wisdom tooth is impacted, it will need to be removed by an oral surgeon. If it is not removed, you may develop gum tenderness, swelling, or even severe pain. Impacted wisdom teeth that are partially or fully erupted tend to be quite difficult to clean and are susceptible to tooth decay, recurring infections, and even gum disease.
Each patient’s situation is unique. Your oral surgeon will usually take a panoramic X-ray to determine whether your wisdom teeth will need to be removed. If he or she recommends the removal of your wisdom teeth, it is best to have them removed sooner rather than later.
Wisdom teeth are typically removed during the late teens or early twenties because there is a greater chance that the roots have not fully formed and the bone surrounding the teeth is less dense. These two factors can make extraction easier, as well as the recovery time much shorter.
To remove a wisdom tooth, an oral surgeon first needs to numb the area around the tooth with a local anesthetic. He or she can use additional medication, such as nitrous oxide, IV sedation, or general anesthesia, to sedate you safely during the extraction if you are feeling nervous about the procedure.
Since the impacted tooth may still be under the gums and embedded in your jaw bone, your oral surgeon will need to remove a portion of the covering bone to extract the tooth. To minimize the amount of bone removed with the tooth, your wisdom tooth may be “sectioned” (cut into pieces) so each piece can be removed through a small opening in the bone.
Once your wisdom teeth have been extracted, the healing process begins. Healing time varies, depending on the degree of difficulty related to the extraction. The oral surgeon will let you know what to expect and provide instructions for a comfortable, efficient healing process.