Most of us have four wisdom teeth, but sometimes there can be fewer or none at all. Wisdom teeth (otherwise known as “third molars”) can start to cause problems as we reach our late teens or early twenties. Many people find that there isn’t enough room for their wisdom teeth to push through, which can cause the teeth to grow sideways, or become “impacted”. Also, as these teeth are situated so far back in the mouth, they can be uncomfortable to reach with a toothbrush, especially for those of us with a strong gag reflex. That’s when they can become decayed and cause toothache.
There are many reasons why dentists would recommend removal of wisdom teeth, including the above-mentioned decay or lack of space, as well as damage to adjacent teeth or planning for orthodontic treatment. If the extractions are likely to be complicated, your dentist will probably refer you to an oral & maxillofacial surgeon for the procedure. In this instance, you will also have the option to be put to sleep for the surgery, rather than have it done in-chair with local anaesthesia only. Some clinics may also offer sedation performed by a general dentist; it is always wise to check whether that’s a valid option before you undergo treatment.
The recovery time following wisdom tooth removal depends on the type of procedure performed. If you have a simple and straightforward extraction performed by your general dentist in-chair under local anaesthesia, then there will be minimal to no swelling or bruising, and it may be possible to resume your normal routines after only 24 hours. That said, the gums around the extraction site may not heal completely for a few weeks.
If the tooth extraction is complex and requires surgical removal of bone, it may take four to five days for swelling to resolve and it will often be recommended that the patient takes a week off work, school or any other engagements to recover. Ice packs can be used to reduce swelling.
It is also very important to follow care instructions given to you by your dentist or oral & maxillofacial surgeon before and after wisdom tooth removal. This includes getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated, no active exercise or operation of machinery, no smoking, maintaining a soft food diet for at least three days after the extraction(s) and taking pain killers as recommended. In addition, follow-up appointments are necessary to allow your treating practitioner to check on your healing and/or remove stitches, if necessary.
As with all dental treatment, if in doubt, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have about your wisdom tooth extraction(s) before consenting to the procedure. Your practitioner’s responses will offer you a reasonable understanding of the treatment involved and its expected outcomes.
Dr Quinn Tao
BBiomed (Melb), DDS (Melb)