Q&A About Wisdom Teeth from a Dentist

wisdom teeth

For many people, the thought of having their wisdom teeth removed sounds only slightly preferable to medieval torture. But the truth is, this vital procedure is an important way to prevent infections, cysts, tooth crowding, and damage to nearby teeth. Wisdom teeth extraction doesn’t have to be painful either. Let’s learn more about wisdom teeth removal and what you can expect if your dentist suggests this procedure for you or your child.

Wisdom Teeth Explained

What are wisdom teeth? Wisdom teeth are a third set of molars in the far back of the mouth. We call them “wisdom teeth” because they typically appear between the ages of 17 and 25 years old and are the very last set of teeth to grow in. They’re the only teeth that don’t develop until after birth, making them uniquely special cases when it comes to oral health. The term dates back to the 1600s when they were known as “teeth of wisdom” but we can thank our early ancestors for these “extra” molars, which were often needed to help chew through tough meat, nuts, roots and leaves. Thanks to the more modern invention of cooking, we developed softer and easier to chew food that precluded the need for additional teeth. Human development over millions of years led to smaller jaws and thus less room for an extra set of chompers. While many people have anywhere from one to four added molars growing in the narrow gaps in the back of their mouths, about 35% of Americans are born without any wisdom teeth at all! The American Dental Association recommends that people have their mouth examined before age 20 to check for any potential problems while the roots are still developing.

Wisdom Teeth Removal

Like many things in life, too much of something can often cause problems. In this case, the additional molars mean less room in the mouth and more room for infection and painful teeth shifting. We call these problematic wisdom teeth “impacted” when they do not grow in properly or there is not enough room in the mouth. Impacted wisdom teeth often lead to localized gum infection known as pericoronitis. This occurs when there isn’t enough space in the mouth for the wisdom teeth to grow in and the gum tissue around the wisdom teeth gets irritated and infected, resulting in continuous pain, swelling, and problems with chewing or swallowing. As if that wasn’t enough, cysts can form and wreak havoc in the mouth. Cysts are fluid-filled “balloons” inside the jaw bone that develop as a result of impacted teeth and slowly expand destroying adjacent jaw bone and occasionally teeth. The longer impacted wisdom teeth remain in the mouth, the greater the likelihood of oral health issues and the harder these problems are to treat. People in their 30s or later with impacted wisdom teeth are especially prone to infections and cysts, so dentists may recommend extraction of wisdom teeth as early as 12 or 13 years old.

Despite good intentions, some dentists recommend removing wisdom teeth too early. At Hancock, and Johnston Dentistry, we only recommend removal if medically necessary and to avoid impacting teeth alignment, which could require orthodontics to correct. In many cases, you or your child can wait several months to see if things change before making a decision. If there is any pain, swelling, or odor near the back teeth, it may be time for another look. Typically, it’s easier to remove wisdom teeth in younger patients because the roots of the wisdom teeth are not completely formed, surrounding bone is softer and there is less chance of damaging nearby nerves or other structures.

How Much Does it Cost to Remove Wisdom Teeth?

For many people, the root of the issue comes down to money. We understand life is expensive and the last thing you want to pay for is teeth extraction. But it’s important to weigh the expense of removal versus the pain and complications you or your child may experience down the line. Truthfully, costs vary according to each patient’s particular case. Some specific cost factors include the patient’s age, the difficulty involved in removing impacted wisdom teeth, and the type of anesthesia needed. During your consultation appointment, your dentist will carefully review your dental history, x-rays, and complete an examination before an accurate estimate can be provided. Putting off wisdom teeth removal indefinitely can often end up being more costly in the future due to multiple dental visits and procedures to correct any issues. When it comes to cost, insurance can help. Our dental practice is an out of network provider, but we are able to process insurance claims and we do our best to help our patients. Dental insurance may cover up to half of wisdom tooth removal that’s considered medically necessary. Some dental plans cap what they’ll pay annually for all dental care and coverage varies by the insurer and policy, so it’s always a good idea to check with your insurance provider before undergoing any procedure.

Should you wait and remove just one or two wisdom teeth at a time? It may seem counter-intuitive, but it often doesn’t save people money to wait. We recommend all four be removed during the same procedure because it can end up being more expensive to visit multiple times for additional wisdom tooth extractions should they become a problem.

The decision not to extract wisdom teeth is reasonable in some cases and should be carefully made by the patient / parent, and dentist. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that wisdom teeth left alone can:

  • Cause damage to neighboring teeth
  • Develop pathology such as cysts and painful abscesses
  • Develop cavities that can’t be restored
  • Lead to infections and other periodontal disease

Does a Third Molar Procedure Hurt?

Wisdom teeth removal can be nearly painless when performed by skillful, experienced dental practitioners. In fact, wisdom teeth removal is often done in an hour or two at our office and local or general anesthetic keeps the procedure as pain-free as possible. We often find most patients are fully recovered without issue and are back to eating normal foods in just a few days or less. At Hancock, and Johnston Dentistry we take great pride in making sure every patient feels safe and comfortable during every procedure. We take the time to carefully explain every step of the process and ensure the right type and amount of anesthesia is utilized to keep patients comfortable. Some swelling and discomfort generally occur after extraction and this is a normal part of the healing process.

After surgery there are plenty of things you can do to make the recovery time easier and faster. Plan on taking it easy for a few days although most patients return to normal activities after the first day. Make sure you or your child avoids the following:

  • sucking fluids through straws
  • tobacco
  • vigorous rinsing of the mouth
  • hard or sticky foods
  • exercise

Ask your dentist about taking over-the-counter pain medications. To help with the swelling, you can also place an ice pack over you or your child’s jaw. The cold helps reduce inflammation and reduce discomfort. Speaking of cold, there’s good news if you or your child enjoy ice cream: During recovery it’s best to stick to eating a soft-food diet for the first day or more and then slowly moving to semi-soft food when ready. This might just be the one time your dentist actually recommends ice cream!