wisdom teeth extraction

July 19, 2010 | In: Medical facts

You can’t really see them, and they don’t even hurt. Then why does your dentist want to pull your wisdom teeth?

Early removal of wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, can save you needless pain and future trips to the dentist, says Dr. O. Ross Beirne, director of residency training for the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University of Washington School of Dentistry.

Centuries ago, humans’ jaws were longer with plenty of room for a full set of teeth. Today, due to evolution and a shift toward a softer diet, our mouths are smaller — with little space for wisdom teeth.

Because wisdom teeth are cramped in the mouth, they often become impacted — blocked by bone or other teeth from erupting into a normal, functioning position. Since they can’t grow straight up, these teeth may be forced to grow in an unnatural way, causing discomfort and damage to adjacent teeth, bone and soft tissues. They are also more prone to infection, inflammation and cavities since they are difficult to clean adequately.

While it is standard procedure for a dentist to remove wisdom teeth if they are causing problems, such as pain or swelling, there are differing views about the necessity of removing teeth in patients with no such symptoms. Some studies suggest the benefits of early removal outweigh the immediate discomfort of the procedure.

If wisdom teeth remain, the roots can engulf nerves, making the teeth more difficult and more painful to remove. Older patients may also suffer complications, such as nerve damage, and have longer recovery time. Other long-term risks associated with wisdom teeth include the development of cysts, which can destroy bone and cause infection and weakening of the jaw, making it more susceptible to fracture.

Removing teeth early, even before they can be seen, is a simple, preventive measure. The ideal time to have wisdom teeth removed is between the ages of 16 to 22 when roots are approximately one-third formed.

The removal of all wisdom teeth usually takes approximately one hour, though each case is different depending on the level of impaction (whether the tooth is imbedded in tissue and/or bone) and the angle of tooth growth. There are several methods of pain relief during the procedure, including local anesthesia, light sedation or general anesthesia. Such options should be discussed on an individual basis.

Patients should expect some pain, bleeding and swelling during the first two days following tooth removal. Pain medication and the application of ice packs will help alleviate discomfort. Recovery is complete within one to two weeks.

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