Wisdom teeth

Woman showing her teeth

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third and last set of molars that people develop in their early teens or late twenties. There may be up to four wisdom teeth that grow on both the bottom and top at the back of the mouth. Wisdom teeth often affect other teeth when growing as the mouth becomes crowded and causes severe pain. When this occurs the only current remedy is having the tooth removed.

What is the purpose of wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are evolutionary and were once essential to an early human diet of nuts, leaves, meat and roots. Yet today, we cook food to soften it and therefore wisdom teeth are no longer necessary. Some people may not even get their wisdom teeth coming through because humans have evolved past needing them. If they do not come through, however, it does not mean that they are not still there under the gum.

What are the symptoms of wisdom teeth growing in?

Symptoms of your wisdom teeth pushing through may include:

  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Red, swollen gums that are enflamed
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • Bad breath

You should be able to notice that your wisdom teeth are starting to poke through your gums if you look at the back of your mouth using a mirror.

Do wisdom teeth always cause problems?

If there is enough room, the wisdom teeth can come through into a useful position without causing problems to any other tooth. There might be slight discomfort but this will disappear when it has grown fully into its place.

What is an impacted wisdom tooth?

An impacted wisdom tooth grows at an angle because there is not enough room for it to push through and it will be stuck against the tooth in front of it.

How can I relieve wisdom tooth pain at home?

It is recommended to use warm water with a little salt as a homemade mouthwash. Swish the saltwater around the tooth and try to get into the areas that your toothbrush cannot reach. An anti-bacterial mouthwash from your local pharmacy can also reduce the inflammation.

Pain relief medications such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen can be used in the short term. If the pain is persistent then you should book an appointment to see your dentist.

What happens when wisdom teeth are removed?

If it is clear that your wisdom tooth is not able to come through into a useful position because there is not enough room, your dentist will recommend removing them. Or, if they have partly come through but are decayed, they may also be removed. 

Your dentist will take an X-ray and explain how difficult it is or not with removing your wisdom teeth in your particular case. Often, upper wisdom teeth are easier to remove than lower ones, which are more likely to be impacted. 

The dentist will determine whether the wisdom teeth should be removed at a dental practice or by an oral surgeon in a hospital. Usually, the routine procedure is performed under a local anaesthetic just as if you were having a filling, for example.

What should I expect after the procedure?

There is usually some swelling of the face and discomfort after having your wisdom teeth removed. It is best to avoid alcohol and smoking for a few days after the procedure. Your dentist will want to see you a week later to check how the mouth is healing and to remove any stitches.