Wisdom Teeth

By the age of 18, the average adult has 32 teeth; 16 teeth on the top and 16 teeth on the bottom. Each tooth in the mouth has a specific name and function. The teeth in the front of the mouth (incisors, canine, and bicuspid teeth) are ideal for grasping and biting food into smaller pieces. The back teeth (molar teeth) are used to grind food up into a consistency suitable for swallowing.

The average mouth is made to hold only 28 teeth. It can be painful when 32 teeth try to fit in a mouth that holds only 28 teeth. These four other teeth are your third molars, also known as “wisdom teeth.”

Why Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt within the mouth. When they align properly and gum tissue is healthy, wisdom teeth do not have to be removed. Unfortunately, this does not generally happen. The extraction of wisdom teeth is necessary when they are prevented from properly erupting within the mouth. They may grow sideways, partially emerge from the gum, and even remain trapped beneath the gum and bone. Impacted teeth can take many positions in the bone as they attempt to find a pathway that will allow them to successfully erupt.

These poorly positioned impacted teeth can cause many problems. When they are partially erupted, the opening around the teeth allows bacteria to grow and will eventually cause an infection. The result: swelling, stiffness, pain, and illness. The pressure from the erupting wisdom teeth may move other teeth and disrupt the orthodontic or natural alignment of teeth. The most serious problem occurs when tumors or cysts form around the impacted wisdom teeth, resulting in the destruction of the jawbone and healthy teeth. Removal of the offending impacted teeth usually resolves these problems. Early removal is recommended to avoid such future problems and to decrease the surgical risk involved with the procedure.

Wisdom Teeth Presentation

To provide you with a better understanding of wisdom teeth, we have provided the following multimedia presentation. Many common questions pertaining to wisdom teeth are discussed.

Wisdom Teeth Presentation

Oral Examination

With an oral examination and x-rays of the mouth, Dr. O'Shell, Dr. Vuu, Dr. Dauterive or Dr. Quirk can evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and predict if there are present or may be future problems. Studies have shown that early evaluation and treatment result in a superior outcome for the patient. Patients are generally first evaluated in the mid-teenage years by their dentist, orthodontist or by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

All outpatient surgery is performed under appropriate anesthesia to maximize patient comfort. Drs. O'Shell, Vuu, Dauterive or Quirk have the training, license and experience to provide various types of anesthesia for patients to select the best alternative

What is an Impacted Tooth?

When a tooth is unable to fully enter the mouth, it is said to be “impacted.” In general, impacted teeth are unable to break through the gums because there is not enough room. Nine out of ten people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth.

How serious is an impacted wisdom tooth?

If left in the mouth, impacted wisdom teeth may damage neighboring teeth, or become infected. Because the third molar area of the mouth is difficult to clean, it is a site that invites the bacteria that leads to gum disease. Furthermore oral bacteria may travel from your mouth through the bloodstream, where it may lead to possible systemic infections and illnesses that affect the heart, kidneys and other organs.

Research has shown that once periodontal disease is established in the third molar areas, the problem is persistent and progressive, but may improve following extraction of the teeth.

In some cases a fluid-filled cyst or tumor may form around the base of the untreated wisdom tooth. As the cyst grows it may lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other structures.

Must the tooth come out if it hasn’t caused any problems yet?

Many people believe that as long as they are not in pain, they do not have to worry about their wisdom teeth. However, pain free does not mean disease or problem free. In fact, wisdom teeth that come in normally may still be prone to disease, according to a study by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation. AAOMS strongly recommends that third molars be evaluated by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon by the time a patient is a young adult in order to assess the presence of third molars, disease status, and to suggest management options ranging from removal to a monitored retention plan to ensure optimal patient-specific outcomes.

In general, dental and medical professionals agree that wisdom teeth should be removed in the following instances:

  • infections and/or periodontal disease;
  • cavities that cannot be restored;
  • pathologies such as cysts, and tumors, and
  • damage to neighboring teeth.

Wisdom teeth that are completely erupted and functional, painless, cavity-free, in a hygienic environment with healthy gum tissue, and are disease-free may not require extraction. They do, however, require regular, professional cleaning, annual check-ups and periodic radiographs to monitor for any changes.

Removal

The removal of wisdom teeth can be performed under local anesthesia, laughing gas (nitrous oxide/oxygen analgesia) or general anesthesia. These options, as well as the surgical risks (i.e., sensory nerve damage, sinus complications), will be discussed with you before the procedure is performed. Once the teeth are removed, the gums may or may not need to be sutured. To help control bleeding, bite down on the gauze placed in your mouth. You will rest under our supervision in the office until you are ready to be taken home. Upon discharge, your postoperative kit will include postoperative instructions, a may also have a prescription for pain medication, antibiotics. You may or may not have to return in one week for a follow-up appointment. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call us at Memorial Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Phone Number (713) 784-4200.

Our services are provided in an environment of optimum safety that utilizes modern monitoring equipment and staff who are experienced in anesthesia techniques.