Wisdom teeth are the last to appear in your mouth. Usually, this happens in your late teens or early twenties. But when they emerge, they can cause problems. Some wisdom teeth won’t erupt. Instead, these teeth remain below the gums and cause further issues.
Issues with your wisdom teeth are often painful. Along with the discomfort of dealing with a problem wisdom tooth, you may experience heightened anxiety. If you have dental phobia, worries about seeking assistance from a dentist and the potential need for extraction can make you panic.
Fully understanding the issues surrounding wisdom teeth and how they are remedied can help you overcome your fears and get the treatment you need. There are also steps you can take to reduce your anxiety and fears around treatment.
Unfortunately, wisdom teeth don’t mean you have additional insight into life. These teeth typically develop several years after the rest of your permanent teeth. But as they emerge, they can cause problems.
Your jaw is usually fully grown when your wisdom teeth come through. For some people, there is not enough space on the jaw to accommodate these additional teeth.
With nowhere to go, your wisdom teeth could cause problems. An impacted molar does not erupt. These teeth can cause damage to neighbouring teeth and jaw and may open you up to potential infections and cysts.
Sometimes wisdom teeth emerge without issue. But when they do become impacted, pain and anxiety levels may rise. If you have a dental phobia, this article can help subdue some of your fears about seeking support and treatment.
The Third Molars
Your molars are the flat teeth at the back of your mouth. These wide teeth are used to chew food. Because of their shape, they are very powerful and useful for grinding hard and chewy foods such as meat.
As a child or teenager, you’ll develop two sets of molars. But when you reach your late teens or early twenties, the third set of teeth may come through. These are your wisdom teeth. In total, you will have four. One on either side of the top row and a matching pair on the bottom row.
Some people never get these extra teeth, and others do. Those that do may experience issues.
These additional molars don’t come through with the rest of your adult teeth because there simply isn’t enough room while you’re still growing. But sometimes, your jaw may still be too small to accommodate when you’re an adult.
It’s believed that our jaws have gradually evolved and are now smaller. One potential reason for the shift in size is that our diets have changed. Ancient humans would have eaten more raw vegetables and tougher meats. With changes in food preparation techniques, we typically eat softer foods than our ancestors did thousands of years ago.
Before the dawn of dentistry and oral care, it was normal for people to wear their molars down by the time they were adults. As their initial molars were lost, the third set would replace them. But that’s less of an issue in the modern age, and these additional teeth aren’t necessary.
Impacted Wisdom Teeth
Although impacted wisdom teeth usually cause complications, this is not always the case. You may feel some teething pains as your wisdom teeth emerge, but this will pass if there is enough space for them to grow.
But wisdom teeth can become impacted. This means that there is enough space for them. When this happens, you need to be aware of the potential risks.
Cysts can develop around impacted wisdom teeth. As these worsen, the pockets of pus can severely damage your jaw and cause bone loss.
Once it emerges, a problematic wisdom tooth can be hard to clean. Because it’s so close to its neighbours, it becomes difficult to brush or floss around the tooth. Partially emerged wisdom teeth are particularly prone to developing build-ups of plaque and tartar.
If your impacted tooth is on its side beneath the surface of your gums, it can harm the roots of the neighbouring teeth.
There are a few ways that the impacted tooth can grow:
- Straight, but trapped in position
- Angled toward your second molar
- Angled toward the back of your mouth
- Laid down at a right angle
The symptoms of an impacted wisdom tooth include:
- Swollen, tender, red, or bleeding gums
- Pain and swelling around the jaw
- Difficulty chewing and opening your mouth
- Bad breath and an unpleasant taste
Seeking Treatment for Impacted Wisdom Teeth
If you’re experiencing pain and discomfort behind your back molars, you may have an impacted wisdom tooth. It’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible to ensure none of the complications associated with impacted wisdom teeth causes further damage to your oral health.
Your dentist will use x-rays to confirm an impacted wisdom tooth diagnosis. The usual course of action is to extract the tooth.
Wisdom Tooth Extraction Process
There are two types of wisdom tooth extraction. You could have either a simple or surgical extraction.
If the tooth’s crown has emerged enough above the surface of your gum, your dentist might remove it using a straightforward procedure.
Before the extraction, your dentist will numb the area around the tooth by giving you a local anaesthetic. Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, and the area is numb, you won’t feel any pain, just pressure.
Using a tool called an elevator, your dentist will loosen your tooth. Once loose, the tooth is removed using dental forceps. Following this, your dentist will clean the area and use gauze to stop any bleeding.
A tooth that hasn’t emerged will require surgical extraction. Although this sounds scary, this type of procedure is very routine. Your dentist or an oral surgeon might perform your extraction.
After being given an anaesthetic, the dentist or surgeon will make an incision in your gum so they can access your tooth. Next, the tooth is removed. In some cases, the tooth might need to be cut into pieces first.
Recovering From a Wisdom Tooth Extraction
The length of your recovery will depend on whether you’ve had a simple or surgical extraction. Whichever procedure you’ve had, you shouldn’t drive after leaving your appointment. Have a friend or family member drive you home and ask them to stay with you until the anaesthetic has worn off.
When the anaesthetic is still in your system, and your mouth is still numb, there is a danger that you could bite the inside of your mouth or tongue. You should not eat until you regain feeling.
Avoid doing anything strenuous for the next 24 hours after your procedure. You should also avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and exercising.
After 24 hours, you should start rinsing your mouth with antibacterial mouthwash or warm salt water every few hours. This helps kill any bacteria around the treatment site and prevents infection.
The extraction site may bleed for the first couple of days after treatment, and you can expect to experience some pain and swelling in the area for up to two weeks. You can manage any discomfort with painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Holding an ice pack to the inflamed area can help ease swelling and discomfort.
Stick to eating soft food for a few days after your procedure, as you might find it difficult to open your mouth.
Wisdom Tooth Recovery Complications
Most wisdom teeth are removed without any adverse effects. Due to the nature of the procedure, there is a risk of infection around the extraction site. Gargling warm salt water or antibacterial mouthwash often will reduce this risk.
If the extraction site fails to clot properly, you may develop a condition called “dry socket”. When this happens, the jawbone beneath the extraction hole is exposed.
If you notice increasing pain and swelling, particularly after three to five days, you should contact your dentist immediately. Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to reduce infection and help treat your dry socket.
Wisdom Tooth Extraction and Dental Phobia
Dental phobia is a very real problem that affects many people. When faced with a problem such as an impacted wisdom tooth, it can cause fear and panic.
Overcoming your phobia is possible. With the support of the right dentist, you can develop a plan to tackle your anxiety.
A Dental Phobia-certified dentist will help you feel at ease by listening to your concerns, talking you through the procedure, and answering any questions you may have.
Your dentist may offer sedation at their clinic. With sedation, you’ll remain conscious during the extraction procedure; however, you won’t feel anxiety or pain. Many people that opt for sedation often find a reduction in their dental phobia in the future.
There are a few things you could do to help yourself during your procedure. Arrange for a friend or family member to attend your appointment with you. Having someone you know, and trust by your side might help calm you if you feel a sense of panic.
Breathing exercises and grounding techniques can help slow your breathing and prevent anxiety from building. Listening to music or a podcast is a good distraction; If possible, take some headphones and a device to your appointment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding the problems you’re experiencing with your wisdom teeth can help you mentally prepare for any treatment. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions.
What are wisdom teeth?
Sometimes referred to as the third molars, wisdom teeth are situated at the back of your mouth on both sides of your mouth on the top and bottom arches. These molars often start to emerge much later than the rest of your adult teeth. This is usually in your late teens or early twenties; however, it can happen later.
Unlike the rest of your teeth, your third molars are not essential. If they become impacted or cause problems to the rest of your teeth, they can be extracted.
Why do wisdom teeth often require extraction?
Due to a gradual change in our diets and cooking methods, our jaws have become smaller as they’ve evolved. We no longer need as much power while chewing as our food is usually softer and easier to break down.
Because our jaws are smaller, there’s sometimes not enough space for the wisdom tooth to grow. As a result, your tooth may form on its side beneath the surface. This can cause cysts, pain, and damage to the surrounding teeth and bone. If a wisdom tooth isn’t removed, you can develop infections that lead to further complications.
How does a wisdom tooth become impacted?
Your wisdom tooth will have become impacted because there’s not enough space for it to erupt fully. It may partially erupt, or it could remain under the gums and cause several oral health problems.
Are there any occasions when you don’t need a wisdom tooth extraction?
Yes. There are several scenarios where you won’t need an extraction after your wisdom teeth appear. Your jaw may be able to hold your new teeth, and they can emerge without issue. You may experience some discomfort as they start to come through, but when there is adequate space, they won’t cause issues.
If you’ve previously had your teeth straightened using a brace, you may have had your back molars removed. If this is the case, you should have sufficient room to allow your wisdom teeth to come through unobstructed.
What happens if an impacted wisdom tooth isn’t removed?
Impacted wisdom teeth should be removed to avoid further issues. If the tooth isn’t removed, cysts could lead to infection. This may cause bone loss in your jaw and loosen neighbouring teeth.
What should I expect from my wisdom tooth extraction?
Wisdom tooth extraction is a routine procedure. Your dentist will give you an anaesthetic to numb the treatment area. Simple extractions where the tooth has already erupted are usually brief. You won’t feel any pain during the extraction, just pressure.
If the tooth is below the surface of your gum, the dentist or surgeon will need to make an incision to access the tooth.
Are there any potential risks associated with extracting wisdom teeth?
Following your extraction, there is a risk of developing a condition called “dry socket”. This occurs when the treatment site does not clot, and the jaw below is exposed. If you develop a dry socket, you should call your dentist immediately.
Keeping your mouth clean after extraction is essential. Rinsing with warm salt water or antibacterial mouthwash will fight bacteria and prevent infection.
What can I expect from wisdom tooth extraction recovery?
On the day of your extraction, it can take some time for your anaesthetic to wear off. During this time, you should avoid eating and refrain from drinking hot drinks.
At the start of the recovery process, you may experience pain, swelling, and bleeding. You can manage the symptoms using painkillers and an ice pack. The symptoms will gradually subside over the next two weeks.
If your symptoms get worse, consult your dentist.
What can I do to manage my dental phobia when I need a wisdom tooth extraction?
If you have anxiety about seeking treatment, you should get help from a sympathetic dentist. The Dental Phobia-certified dentists listed on this site have all demonstrated an understanding and willingness to help patients with fears around treatment. With their help, you can overcome phobias and receive the necessary dental care.
First, your dentist will discuss your fears to understand how they can provide the best treatment. A caring dentist will take any procedures at a comfortable pace.
Many dental clinics offer sedation dentistry. During a treatment using conscious IV sedation, your feelings of anxiety will subside. You’ll remain awake throughout your appointment, but you’ll feel completely calm.
Using grounding techniques and breathing exercises can also help. Deep breathing helps regulate stress hormones, while using distraction techniques can help you from fixating on anxious thoughts.
Other ways to minimise anxiety while seeking wisdom tooth treatment include taking a friend, partner, or family member to your appointment and listening to music during treatment.