Why do we have wisdom teeth?
Adults can have up to 32 teeth. The wisdom teeth are the last to appear, right at the back of the mouth. They usually appear when you are between 17 and 25, although sometimes they appear many years later.
People often have jaws that are too small for all 32 teeth to fit - 28 is often the most we have room for. So if all the other teeth are present and healthy there may not be enough space for the wisdom teeth to come through properly.
Do wisdom teeth always cause problems?
No. If there is enough room they will usually come through into a useful position and cause no more problems than any other tooth.
Often there will be some slight discomfort as they come through, but this will disappear once the tooth is fully in position.
What is an impacted wisdom tooth?
If there is not enough room, the wisdom tooth may try to come through, but will get stuck against the tooth in front of it. The wisdom tooth will be at an angle, and will be described by the dentist as 'impacted'.
What problems should I be prepared for?
If part of the wisdom tooth has appeared through the gum and part of it is still covered, the gum may become sore and perhaps swollen. This is called ‘pericoronitis'. Bacteria and bits of food can collect under the gum edge, and it will be difficult to clean the area properly.
This is a temporary problem that can be dealt with by using mouthwashes, special cleaning methods and possibly antibiotics. If the problem keeps coming back, it may be better to have the tooth removed.
What can I do to help relieve the discomfort of wisdom teeth?
A mouthwash of medium-hot water with a teaspoonful of salt will help to reduce gum soreness and inflammation (check that it is not too hot before using it). Swish the salt water around the tooth, trying to get into the areas your toothbrush cannot reach. Do this several times a day. An antibacterial mouthwash containing chlorhexidine can also reduce the inflammation. Pain-relieving tablets such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can also be useful in the short term, but talk to your dental team if the pain continues. The tablets should always be swallowed and not placed on the area.
What if this does not help?
If the pain does not go away or if you find it difficult to open your mouth, you should see your dentist. They will be able to see the cause of the problem, and give you the right advice. They may clean around the tooth very thoroughly, and may prescribe an antibiotic.
Are x-rays needed for wisdom teeth?
The dental team will usually take x-rays to see the position of the root, and to decide whether there is room for the tooth to come through into a useful position.
What are the main reasons for taking wisdom teeth out?
Far fewer wisdom teeth are now taken out than in the past. If the tooth is not causing problems, your dentist will not want to remove it. They will only remove wisdom teeth:
- when it is clear that they will not be able to come through into a useful position because there is not enough room, and they are also causing some pain or discomfort.
- if they have only partly come through and are decayed - these teeth will often decay as it will be difficult to clean them as thoroughly as your other teeth.
- if they are painful.