Wisdom teeth are the upper and lower third molars located at the back of your mouth (four in total). They are the last molars to erupt in the mouth, usually between the ages of 15 to 25. When there is not enough space in your jaw for wisdom teeth to erupt (push through your gums), they can become mal-aligned (impacted) which causes pain, infection, and damage to neighbouring teeth.
Your dentist will begin screening for impacted wisdom teeth in late adolescence (ages 15-17). Screening often includes a clinical examination and X-rays, such as a panoramic radiograph.
The decision to have wisdom teeth removed (extracted) will depend on whether the teeth are already causing you trouble or likely will in the future. Your dentist will do an examination to determine the risk that risk. Your dentist will look at the health of your gums, the available space, the direction the wisdom teeth are growing in, the position and health of nearby teeth, and overall risk of cavities.
When you decide, based on your dentist’s recommendations, to have your wisdom teeth removed, your dentist may refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon (OMFS), a specialized dentist with expertise in wisdom teeth management. The surgeon will be able to explain the procedure to you and address any questions or concerns you may have. They will also discuss options for anesthesia; wisdom teeth extraction is commonly performed under intravenous (I.V.) sedation.
Wisdom teeth extraction is often recommended in young adulthood because the risks involved with the removal and recovery period tend to increase with age. Your dentist will explain the risks involved based on your individual case. Some of the common risks of wisdom teeth extraction are temporary, including dry socket, minor infections and bleeding. Less common risks which can last longer include injury to your nerves, teeth, gums or tongue.
Following the removal of your wisdom teeth, it is important to follow appropriate post-extraction care instructions provided by your dentist to ensure a fast and proper recovery. This commonly includes prescription(s) for pain medication and/or antibiotics and following a liquid or soft food diet.