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Why Do People Get Their Wisdom Teeth Removed?

August 27, 2019
Having your wisdom teeth removed is often a rite of passage for teens and young adults. These teeth, known by dentists as the third set of molars, can cause problems for nearby teeth and harm overall oral health. Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed, so it’s “wise” to know the reasons why your dentist might suggest this procedure — and what to expect after.
Wisdom Teeth Basics
Wisdom teeth may have gotten their name from the fact that they often grow out between the ages of 16 and 23. This can be a decade or more after other permanent teeth are in place, and an age when we’re supposed to have grown wiser. In many cases, given the possible side effects of wisdom teeth, the dentist may recommend to have them removed.
Wisdom teeth can cause multiple problems, including:
  • Growing in at an odd angle. They can push toward the molars in front of them or toward the inside or outside of the mouth.
  • Becoming impacted. This means they are trapped by gum tissue or the jawbone, which can be painful.
  • Erupting only partially. This can leave an opening around the tooth for bacteria to get in below the gums, which can lead to infections.
  • Crowding other teeth. Even if they do come in at the right angle, they can grow too tightly against other teeth and make it hard to brush and floss.
Wisdom teeth can show up on dental X-rays before they start pushing out of the gums. At that point, your dentist might refer you to an oral surgeon. It might be tempting to wait until problems actually develop, especially with teenage children. But removing wisdom teeth is easier in younger patients, when the teeth aren’t fully developed and the surrounding bone is less dense. Both healing and recovery can become more difficult with age.
What to Expect When You Get Your Wisdom Teeth Removed

Your dentist or oral surgeon will fill you in on what to expect before removing your wisdom teeth. If they have fully emerged, they can usually be removed as easily as any other tooth. But if your wisdom teeth are impacted, you may need minor surgery. In addition to using a local anesthetic to numb pain around the tooth, your dentist or oral surgeon might offer other options, including:

  • Nitrous oxide (also known as “laughing gas”)
  • Oral sedatives (such as Valium)
  • Intravenous sedatives (given through an injection)

Complete healing could take several weeks for both teens and adults. Any pain should go away after a few days and can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription pain medications. Your dentist or oral surgeon might recommend a soft diet for a few days and also prescribe antibiotics to protect against infection. There could be some minor bleeding for a day or so. Also, for the first 24 hours you should avoid:

  • Spicy food and tobacco
  • Hot beverages or soup
  • Rinsing or spitting

The cost of removing wisdom teeth depends on the difficulty of the procedure. Your health insurance plan may cover the cost of surgery if it’s considered medically necessary — which is often the case if wisdom teeth are impacted or pose health problems. Dental insurance plans may also cover some or all the cost of such procedures.