Wisdom teeth

We’ve all heard about wisdom teeth and heard stories about the pain they cause. As teenagers, we dread the thought of our wisdom teeth ‘coming through’ and every ache or pain in the jawbone is ascribed to this. We’ve all heard about people who’ve had to have their wisdom teeth out too, because they were causing so much pain.

But how many of us understand exactly what wisdom teeth are and why they can cause us so much distress? In this fact sheet, we’ll answer the questions about wisdom teeth: what are they, why do we need to have the extracted and what exactly does the procedure involve?

What are wisdom teeth?

If you are dental phobic, the idea of mysterious wisdom teeth that cause constant pain can be one of those issues that really makes you anxious. Are your wisdom teeth going to come through or not? Will they hurt or won’t they? Even the slightest pain can make you worry that a serious trip to the dentist is looming on the horizon.

So what are wisdom teeth? Wisdom teeth are a certain type of tooth that develops and grows later in life – normally in our late teens or early twenties. The problem is that, sometimes, the growth of the other teeth that develop earlier in life means that there is no room left for wisdom teeth to come through. So what happens? They try to force their way through and this is why wisdom teeth can cause tooth pain and jaw ache.

Why do we need them extracted?

Not all wisdom teeth need to be extracted. If there is space in your mouth then many will grow through naturally. You may still feel some pain as they emerge, but there is no need to automatically assume that you will need full-scale oral surgery.

An initial visit to your dentist should help to allay any fears and decide the best course of action. In many cases, the pain caused by wisdom teeth will disappear as they develop. Alternatively, it may simply be caused by trapped food around the new tooth – regular mouthwash or getting your teeth cleaned by your dentist may be the answer.

However, there are of course cases where wisdom teeth need to be removed. This could be because the wisdom teeth are impacted. The word ‘impacted’ is used to describe wisdom teeth which not allowed to come through properly and which therefore grow at an angle. Alternatively, teeth may need to be removed because they are already decayed. Wisdom teeth often suffer from rapid decay as they are more awkward to clean with regular brushing.

What does the procedure involve?

Normally, your dentist will explore other options (as mentioned above) prior to recommending a tooth extraction. If pain remains, however, your dentist will take x-rays of the affected area so that they can therefore ascertain how successfully the tooth will be able to emerge.

The next step in the procedure will depend on how straightforward your dentist believes the extraction will be. It may be possible to perform more straightforward extractions under a local anaesthetic within the dental practice. Alternatively, you may be referred to an oral surgeon who will perform the extraction in a hospital environment, while you are either under general anaesthetic or under sedation.

What questions should you ask your dentist?

When you are discussing wisdom teeth with your dentist, it is important to get an idea of the extent of the dental work required. As mentioned above, some wisdom teeth can be removed fairly routinely while others require more significant surgery.

The extent of the dental work required will affect your recovery time. The extraction of wisdom teeth can leave you with bruising, swelling and a sore jaw for a few days afterwards.