What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the set of third molars that appear during one’s teenage years or soon after becoming an adult. They are considered to be vestigial, which simply means that they’re not necessary for the proper functioning of the human body. Some people never develop them, others may have two or four of these molars, and in rare cases, a person may have more than four. They’re called wisdom teeth because they usually appear between the ages of 17 to 21 and by that time, you should have gained some degree of wisdom.
Wisdom Teeth Removal
The removal of wisdom teeth is a common dental procedure that is undertaken to address problems caused by the emergence of these third molars. In some cases, they become impacted, meaning that they don’t have enough room to emerge or develop normally. Impacted wisdom teeth can grow at various angles, sometimes even horizontally.
Symptoms Indicating Removal
The need for wisdom teeth removal often arises from symptoms such as pain, infection, damage to the neighbouring teeth, or gum disease. Other signs include tooth decay in a partially erupted wisdom tooth, problems with orthodontic treatments to straighten other teeth, and less commonly, tumors or cysts around the wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth removal is a surgical procedure performed by a dentist or an oral surgeon. The complexity of the surgery varies depending on the position and stage of development of the wisdom teeth. The practitioner will first administer some sort of anesthetic to numb the area. There are several different types commonly used:
- Local Anesthesia – This is most commonly used. Lidocaine is injected into the target area to temporarily prevent the patient from feeling the pain. While lidocaine can eliminate pain on its own, it’s sometimes combined with other anesthetics.
- Laughing Gas – This is nitrous oxide. This drug is administered via a mask, placed over the patient’s nose. The dentist can easily control the dosage according to the patient’s needs.
- Oral Sedation Premedication – Some patients prefer to take oral sedation pills before their procedure. A drug such as Valium, Halcion, or Ativan is taken about 30 minutes before the procedure.
- IV Sedation – This is the most effective option. An IV is inserted in the patient’s arm, and the drugs reduces the patient’s awareness and anxiety.
The procedure typically involves making an incision in the gum tissue to expose the tooth and bone. Any portions of the bone that blocks access to the root of the tooth are removed. In some cases, the tooth is divided into sections, if it’s easier to remove it in pieces. The tooth is then removed, the site of the removed tooth is cleaned, and the wound may be closed with stitches. The dentist or oral surgeon will place gauze over the extraction site to control bleeding and to help a blood clot form.
Recovery and After Care
Recovery from wisdom teeth removal typically takes a few days. During this time, it’s important to rest and follow the surgeon’s instructions to speed up healing and avoid any complications. Common recommendations include using an ice pack to reduce swelling, taking prescribed pain medicine, avoiding physical activity for a few days, avoiding rinsing or spitting forcefully to prevent dislodging the blood clot, and not drinking from a straw for at least 24 hours.
While wisdom teeth extraction is generally safe, it does carry potential risks. These include a dry socket, a sometimes-painful condition that occurs when the blood clot at the surgery site fails to develop, or when it dislodges or dissolves before the wound has had time to heal. Other rare complications can include infection, damage to nearby teeth or the jawbone, and numbness of the mouth or lips.
Prevention and Early Detection
Regular dental visits and X-rays can help to detect potential problems with wisdom teeth before they become serious. Early detection can lead to easier and less complicated removal procedures. In some cases, your dentist may recommend the pre-emptive removal of the wisdom teeth, even if they haven’t caused any problems yet, particularly for younger patients, as younger patients tend to heal faster since the roots are usually not fully developed.
Wisdom teeth removal is a common dental procedure that helps prevent and treat various complications related to the third molars. While the recovery period is relatively short, it’s important to follow post-operative instructions closely to ensure a smooth healing process. Regular dental check-ups play a crucial role in identifying issues with wisdom teeth early, potentially simplifying treatment and recovery.
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