What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the teeth at the back of your mouth (the third molar teeth). They tend to come through (erupt) in the late teens or twenties. Some wisdom teeth do not come through fully (partly erupt) and get stuck (or impacted). This often leaves a flap of gum over your tooth (see figure 1). Others grow too long (over erupt).
A wisdom tooth may need to be removed for several reasons such as tooth decay, repeated or severe infection, to make space to move other teeth or to prevent damage to the cheek or gum.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Simple painkillers such as paracetamol can help control mild pain.
Antibiotics and rinsing with hot, salty water or chlorhexidine mouthwash, can help when the area around the wisdom tooth is infected. These measures give only temporary relief from symptoms and do not treat the underlying cause.
Removing the gum lying over your tooth (operculectomy) may be possible in certain cases if a wisdom tooth has partly erupted.
What does the procedure involve?
Most upper wisdom teeth can be removed easily under a local anaesthetic. Lower wisdom teeth can be more difficult to remove. The procedure usually takes 10 minutes to an hour.
Removing a wisdom tooth can involve cutting the gum to uncover your tooth, removing bone around your tooth and dividing your tooth with a drill.
What complications can happen?
- Swelling and bruising
- Dry socket
- Retained roots
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Sinus problems
- Broken jaw
- Not being able to open your mouth fully (trismus) and jaw stiffness
- Damage to nerves
- Bisphosphonate-associated osteonecrosis of your jaw
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the same day.
Depending on the difficulty of the procedure and the risk of infection, you may be given antibiotics.
You may need to take up to a week off work. You should be able to return to normal activities within a week.
Most people make a full recovery.
Wisdom teeth can sometimes cause serious problems. Removing a wisdom tooth is usually a safe and effective way to prevent your symptoms from coming back.
Author: Mr Andrew Sidebottom FDSRCS FRCS
This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.