If you are someone who is about to have their wisdom teeth removed, you probably have many questions swirling around in your brain (besides "why me?"). You might be wondering why we even have teeth that are taken out almost as soon as they come in, why they have to be removed at all, and how your cousin, Gertrude, avoided having wisdom teeth removal surgery altogether.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
For most people, their wisdom teeth start coming in when they are about 16, but they can come in as late as the age of 25.
Scientists think that wisdom teeth are left over from the days of our early ancestors. With diets that were less than friendly to teeth and a lack of proper dental hygiene, it was common for early humans to lose teeth by the time they were in their late teens or early 20s. Wisdom teeth were a way for early humans to make up for some of the teeth they may have lost, to ensure that they could eat and survive.
Interestingly, about 35 percent of people nowadays don't ever have wisdom teeth that develop—this is a good indication that modern man no longer needs wisdom teeth to survive, and that there may come a day when no one develops them at all.
Why Do Wisdom Teeth Have to Be Removed?
Your dentist might recommend that your wisdom teeth come out if they are impacted, which means that the tooth is not coming through the gum correctly. It might be erupting at an angle that is going to cause harm to other teeth, or it might be rubbing up against the cheek.
Even if your incoming wisdom teeth aren't causing you pain and don't seem to be developing in a way that will harm your other teeth, your dentist might recommend that they be removed. Many dentists feel that leaving wisdom teeth in is just asking for infection, since bits of food are hard to remove way back there, even with good brushing and flossing habits. These infections can be very painful and even dangerous to the patient's health. The bacteria that build up in such a case may lead to gum disease or worse—it is possible for the bacteria to get into the bloodstream and cause an infection that affects the heart or other organs.
If a wisdom tooth is not extracted, a cyst or tumor may develop around the tooth and cause problems for the jaw, nerves, or other teeth.
With all of these scenarios, you might figure it is best to just get your wisdom teeth taken out. However, if they are not causing you any pain, and your dentist believes the teeth and the gums look healthy, you might be able to avoid the extraction procedure. Of course if you decide to keep them, your dentist will want to keep a close eye on them.
What to Expect Before, During, and After Surgery
An oral or maxillofacial surgeon will probably be the one who will be removing your teeth. Before the surgery, the doctor should explain the procedure to you, and answer any questions you have. One thing the doctor will discuss with you is your anesthesia choice—either general or local anesthesia or intravenous sedation.
Usually the teeth can be extracted right there in the doctor's office. You should make sure that a friend or family member is there to drive you home.
Once you get home, make sure you follow your doctor's instructions to take care of yourself and your mouth. Your doctor will probably prescribe medication to help ease any pain. You can use cold compresses to reduce swelling. It probably goes without saying that you should eat soft foods such as ice cream and mashed potatoes. You might also need to make sure you have a couple of days where you get to stay home and rest.