Wise Up to Wisdom Teeth

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last teeth to come into the mouth, typically appearing between the ages of 17-21 (if at all—keep reading). 

Wisdom teeth are a biological relic from our early human ancestors. Many evolutionary biologists now believe these four teeth (two on top, two on bottom) were used to help chew their coarse diets and replace other teeth lost to decay or trauma. However, as people have learned to care for their teeth, the need for these replacement teeth diminished over time. As such, not everyone ends up with all four wisdom teeth: between 20-25% of people will have 1 to 3 wisdom teeth, while more than a third of people won’t develop them at all. 

However, if you or your teen or young adult develop any wisdom teeth, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be in the 85% of people who need to have them removed, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

How do I know if I’m getting wisdom teeth?

If wisdom teeth begin to develop, you may experience an unpleasant taste in your mouth; difficulty opening your mouth; swelling or pain in the jaw; and swelling, bleeding, or tender gums. A dental exam and x-ray can confirm whether or not you are developing wisdom teeth.

Why do they need to be removed?

When the third molars are healthy and positioned correctly, they can be useful. However, most wisdom teeth remain partially or completely impacted, trapped in the jaw and unable to break through the gums. These teeth need to be removed to avoid future complications like infection, damage to the bone and gum tissue, or damage to adjacent teeth.

When is removing wisdom teeth necessary?

No two wisdom teeth scenarios are the same, but some common reasons patients need to have their wisdom teeth removed include the presence or risk of:

  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Cysts
  • Tumors
  • Damage to neighboring teeth
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth decay.

When determining whether or not you need to have your wisdom teeth removed, there are a number of conditions your dentist will look for:

  • The possibility of pericoronitis, or, the inflammation of the gums around the partially erupted crown of a tooth
  • Tooth decay, or even infections, stemming from food and bacteria hiding in the nooks and crannies of a partially erupted tooth
  • The proximity of the wisdom teeth to important nerves in your face and jaw, which could cause complications for later extraction if the tooth’s root becomes entangled with the nerves
  • The possibility of the wisdom teeth forming cyst(s) that could damage the roots of nearby teeth and even the jawbone
  • If your jaw is big enough to accommodate these extra teeth. 

Regular checkups, exams, and x-rays allow your dentist to monitor the progression of your wisdom teeth as they develop so any potential problems can be addressed early and you can avoid complications.

Do all wisdom teeth need to be removed?

If wisdom teeth erupt completely in an upright and functional position, do not pose a risk to tooth decay or gum disease, and do not cause pain, they more than likely do not need to be removed. However, only a dental professional can determine if your wisdom teeth can remain or if they need to be removed.

What happens if I don’t get them removed?

Healthy, fully erupted wisdom teeth are a rarity. Because they appear so late, there is not much room for them to erupt completely and properly. Wisdom teeth that are partially erupted or that don’t erupt at all can lead to bacterial infection, cysts that damage the bone and gum tissue, damage to adjacent teeth, and bone loss around the roots.

If you are one of the few who not only develop wisdom teeth, but have wisdom teeth that erupt in an upright and functional position, do not cause you any pain, and do not pose a risk to decay or gum disease, you may be just fine keeping those extra teeth. As always, check with your dentist and maintain routine dental cleanings and exams to make sure the wisdom teeth don’t start to cause any problems and so you can catch problems early if they do occur.

What is wisdom teeth removal like?

A dentist or oral surgeon will perform x-rays and an exam to determine if you need your wisdom teeth removed and how it will need to be done. Wisdom teeth are typically removed via one of two methods: simple extraction or surgical extraction.

As the name implies, a simple extraction involves only a local anesthetic and numbing agent in your gums before the tooth (or teeth) are loosened and removed.

If your wisdom teeth are partially or completely impacted, they will need to be surgically extracted. During a surgical extraction, an incision is made in the gum to remove the bone and roots of the tooth. The tooth will be cut into pieces if necessary to keep the incision site as small as possible.

Regardless of the type of extraction, wisdom teeth removal is an outpatient surgery, which means you will have the teeth removed and go home the same day, but you will usually need someone to drive you home. The procedure usually takes between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on what type of anesthesia and numbing agents you need and the extent of the surgery. You will first be sedated via laughing gas (nitrous oxide), or, if using an oral surgeon, intravenous sedation, or general anesthesia. (If you were prescribed an oral sedative, you would need to take it before arriving at the procedure and ensure someone drives you there.) You may be awake and relaxed, drifting in and out of consciousness, or, under general anesthesia, completely asleep.

After sedation, a local anesthetic will be applied to your wisdom teeth and the surrounding tissues to numb them. The surgeon or dentist will begin removing the gum tissue and loosening and removing the teeth, either in sections or whole, if possible. Once the teeth are removed from the gum, the hole may be stitched up to assist with healing.

Once the procedure is complete, your sedation will stop and you may be moved to a recovery room. You’ll also be instructed to bite down on gauze to aid in the blood clot formation necessary to help heal your gums.

What is recovery like after wisdom teeth removal?

You will recover in the dentist chair where you received the surgery or in a separate recovery room, which the dentist and assistants will assist you to, where you can be monitored. While you won’t feel any pain during the procedure, you will be groggy and your gums will be numb immediately after. You may also feel some nausea, shivering, or dizziness. As the anesthesia and numbing agents wear off, there will be some bleeding, soreness, and swelling that will last for a few days. You may also experience some pain near the injection site or in the jaw or tooth.  

Recovery can last from two or three days to an entire week, but the wound in your mouth will take several months to completely heal. You can usually resume normal activities the day after the surgery, but you should avoid activity that could dislodge stitches or the blood clot that is forming to protect the hole in your gum, like smoking, spitting, strenuous exercise, and drinking from a straw.

What is the aftercare for wisdom teeth removal?

After your wisdom teeth are removed, the holes in your gums will be packed with gauze and will require special care to minimize the risk of developing a dry socket, a painful condition that results when the incision site does not heal properly, exposing the nerves and bones of the jaw. As part of the healing process, a blood clot will begin to form to protect and heal the bone and nerves. It is important that this clot and the stitches stay in place until the gums have fully healed, which may take several weeks.
You’ll be given instructions on when and how to take medications, what limitations you have, and things to look out for regarding signs you may have dislodged the blood clot or are developing a dry socket. You may also be prescribed painkillers or over-the-counter medications for managing your pain. If stitches were required, your dentist or surgeon will let you know if they will dissolve on their own or if you will need to return to have them removed.

After your procedure, you may eat very soft foods, but avoid alcohol, smoking, and caffeine, as well as using a straw, as this can increase your risk of developing a dry socket. For the first 24 hours after your procedure, you should avoid spicy or hot foods or beverages, brushing your teeth, or spitting. You also need to keep your mouth clean to avoid infections and care for your wound by rinsing with saltwater and letting the water fall out of your mouth (not spitting) and cleaning the wound with gauze.

 Are you put to sleep for wisdom teeth removal?

Whether or not you are put to sleep for wisdom teeth removal depends on a number of factors, such as whether or not the teeth are impacted and how, how many teeth you are having removed, and if you have any major anxiety about the procedure.

Simple extractions—where the tooth is fully erupted and can be removed easily—typically require only a local anesthetic and numbing agent injected into the gums. However, if the teeth are impacted at all, you will need minor surgery, so in addition to the local anesthetic, your oral surgeon or dentist may also recommend oral sedatives like Valium; intravenous sedatives administered via an injection; or nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as “laughing gas,” which relaxes you and may make you feel lightheaded, disoriented, or numb, but will not put you to sleep.

Your dentist may recommend general anesthesia—which does put you to sleep—if you are having multiple wisdom teeth removed at the same time. General anesthesia is also usually available as an option to people who have severe anxiety regarding the procedure and wish to be fully sedated.

Is the removal of your wisdom teeth medical or dental?

Wisdom teeth removal is considered dental surgery. Though the procedure is most often performed by an oral surgeon, especially in situations of impacted teeth or other complex removals, it can be performed by general dentists and other registered specialists trained in jaw and mouth surgery.

How much does it cost to remove wisdom teeth?

How much your wisdom teeth removal procedure costs depends on several variables including how many teeth are being extracted, what kind of anesthesia is required, if the tooth or teeth are impacted and how, and if there are any additional complications such as fully formed roots. This means costs can range from about $200 to $800 or more.

What happens if wisdom teeth never come in?

Not everyone develops wisdom teeth, and while common, they are essentially unnecessary for healthy oral function. If you’re one of the more than 30% of people born without wisdom teeth, you don’t have anything to worry about. 

However, if you do develop wisdom teeth and they never “come in”—that is, they never erupt—then you have a problem. Wisdom teeth that develop but never erupt are considered impacted teeth and can cause serious issues down the road including pain, infection, damage to the bones and tissues of the jaw, and damage to other teeth.

Does health insurance cover wisdom teeth removal?

Most health insurance plans will cover some or most of the cost of removing wisdom teeth if it is deemed medically necessary, such as if the wisdom teeth are impacted and pose a risk to your health. Removing impacted wisdom teeth is usually covered because failure to treat the condition could lead to other health problems like nerve damage, infection, cysts, and bone damage.

If your wisdom teeth are not impacted, your health insurance is unlikely to pay for it. However, be sure to check with your provider if there are any benefits they may offer.

Some dental insurance plans may cover some or all of the cost. However, while some of a wisdom tooth removal may be covered by dental insurance, most plans have an annual cap of $1,000 to $1,500. Be sure to discuss your procedure with your dentist or oral surgeon and your insurance provider about whether or not it is elective or medically necessary, what is included in the cost, and what may be covered by your insurance.

It is important to know that insurance companies are unlikely to pay for elective general anesthetic, so if your dentist or oral surgeon does not recommend it, you will be paying for it out of pocket. Additionally, who performs your procedure matters; treatment from an oral surgeon may cost up to a third more than treatment from a general dentist.

Impacted or improperly erupted wisdom teeth can cause serious health complications down the road, and cost should not be a deterrent to treatment for either your child or yourself. Be open and honest with your dentist or oral surgeon if you are worried about paying for the procedure. Many dental offices offer flexible payment plans, discounts for having all four removed at once, or other methods of making wisdom teeth extraction more affordable.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction at Dental Depot Oklahoma

Dental Depot Oklahoma is your partner for a lifetime of good oral health, with all the resources and experience you and your family need for everything from routine cleanings and checkups to wisdom teeth removal. Our fully staffed team of dental professionals includes skilled dentists and dental hygienists, prosthodontists, orthodontists, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons, which means you’ll receive the same quality and continuity of care for all your dental needs at any one of our four metro locations. 
Don’t wait to have your or your child’s wisdom teeth evaluated. With flexible scheduling, Saturday appointments, comprehensive state-of-the-art facilities, and the ability to schedule everyone in your family simultaneously, Dental Depot Oklahoma takes the stress out of wisdom teeth extraction. To find the location nearest you or to schedule an appointment, visit here.
For more information about post-op care, visit wisdom teeth removal.

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