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Everything You Need to Know About Those Extra Molars

Are you experiencing pain or infection in the back of your mouth? You may need wisdom teeth surgery. But what are wisdom teeth exactly, and why do so many need them removed? What can you expect during and after surgery? Here’s the wisdom about wisdom teeth to answer those questions.

What are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are your third molars. Like other molars, they’re responsible for gripping and chewing fibrous foods like kale, fennel or rhubarb, but they’re unique in the fact that you live your entire childhood and adolescence without them. They normally arrive around year 17, but may not appear until 25. In some cases, these teeth never emerge because the mouth is already full and the other teeth can more than handle the job of eating.

Why Do They Need to Be Removed?

The honest truth is that wisdom teeth are really no longer necessary in modern humans. Most Canadians aren’t routinely trying to chew raw meat or thick, fibrous roots to get enough nourishment. Even modern fibrous vegetables aren’t what they were even 200 years ago. The food system has changed, and we no longer need these teeth.

Still, you may be wondering, why would you need wisdom teeth removal? Is wisdom teeth surgery really necessary? The fact is that since our food system has changed, wisdom teeth have become more of a hassle than a benefit.

According to the Mayo Clinic, problematic wisdom teeth symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the jaw
  • Tender, red, swollen and/or bleeding gums
  • Jaw swelling
  • Bad breath
  • Trouble opening the mouth

While all the above symptoms can happen without impacted wisdom teeth, when impacted they experience the worst of these symptoms. An impacted wisdom tooth doesn’t have enough room to emerge, so it may grow in sideways or just remain under the surface, causing inflammation and pain.

Left untreated impacted wisdom teeth can additionally cause permanent damage in the mouth, including:

  • Damaging the second molar
  • Fluid-filled cyst, which harbours bacteria and could go septic
  • Decay
  • Gum disease

What Should I Expect During Wisdom Teeth Removal Surgery?

On the day of your surgery, your dentist injects a local anesthetic into the mouth. Your dentist may also use nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas). This gas puts you in a very sedated state where you don’t feel anything and may sleep right through it.

Once your dentist confirms that you’re numb, he or she uses a device called an “elevator” that slowly wiggles the tooth out of the bone until your dentist can pull it out with forceps. You should plan to have someone drive or escort you home after because you will feel odd after wisdom tooth surgery.

How Long Does It Take to Recover?

It can take up to two weeks to recover fully, but within two to three days you should feel much better and be able to do most activities, including classes or work. You may have mild pain and soreness for one to two weeks.

Tips for Managing Your Recovery

If you have a compromised immune system, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic after wisdom teeth surgery, but in most cases, your own immune system along with smart care from you will prevent infection. Antibiotics should only be used as a last resort to prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

To speed healing, do not take any medications that prevent blood clotting, including primarily aspirin or NSAIDs. Your dentist may prescribe a painkiller, which should only be needed for two to three days.

Protect the blood clot that forms over the wound for 24 hours by avoiding:

  • Solid foods
  • Sucking through straws
  • Rinsing
  • Brushing over the clot
  • Smoking
  • Drinking

Gently rinse your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash after 24 hours to prevent infection. Rinse with warm salt water to naturally relieve pain and keep the wound clean.

What Can I Eat During Recovery?

Plan ahead so that you know what to eat after wisdom teeth removal and have items on hand. For one to three days, you should only eat very soft foods like:

  • Jello
  • Mashed bananas
  • Egg noodles or over-cooked noodles
  • Eggs

Avoid hard, sharp foods like nuts, popcorn and pretzels for a week after wisdom teeth surgery.

What if There Are Complications?

You should immediately contact your dentist if you experience any of these rare complications:

  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Tenderness that feels like an infection
  • Loosening of other teeth
  • Hole between mouth and sinus (very rare)

Wisdom teeth were once very important to survival, but today they can be more of a liability. Your dentist can help you evaluate whether they need to be removed. Wisdom teeth removal is one the most common minor surgical procedures and therefore generally safe, but contact your dentist immediately if you experience problems.