Most people will have four wisdom teeth, but they may never or only partially appear in the mouth. Some people will not have them develop at all or may have only one, two or three wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth are often impacted, meaning something is stopping them from pushing through into the mouth completely. This may be a lack of space between the second molar tooth and the bond behind.
You may hear of friends or family members having their wisdom teeth removed. This treatment is quite common.
How are wisdom teeth checked?
Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your mouth. They may need to take an x-ray that allows them to see your wisdom teeth if they are not visible inside the mouth or if you are considering having them removed. X-rays allow your dentist to see the position of the teeth, shape of the roots as well as where the wisdom teeth sit in relation to other important facial structures. If you are having your wisdom teeth removed, the x-ray helps your dentist in planning this treatment.
Do wisdom teeth cause crooked teeth?
When wisdom teeth push into the mouth, they can cause feelings of pressure. Sometimes people worry that the wisdom teeth may cause their other teeth to become crooked. Currently, there is no evidence that supports this theory.
Tips for cleaning wisdom teeth
When wisdom teeth are pushing through the gums and into the mouth, it is important to keep the area clean. Not cleaning the bacteria away can cause the gums surrounding the wisdom teeth that are only partially present in the mouth to become inflamed. This is called pericoronitis.
Ensure your toothbrush reaches all the way back to the wisdom teeth. Sometimes the space in this area is limited. Using a toothbrush with a small brush head can help. Keeping your mouth closed while brushing can give you more space to reach around the cheek sides of the wisdom teeth when brushing.
If you are finding it difficult to brush or there is pain from severely inflamed gums, using an antibacterial mouthwash can help you to care for the wisdom teeth and surrounding gums. But this should not be a long term replacement for brushing.
Impacted wisdom teeth
For many people, wisdom teeth are unable to move from under the gums and into the mouth as the rest of the teeth do. Most people do not have enough space in their jaws for wisdom teeth to easily push through the gums. If there is not enough space, the wisdom tooth will become impacted. This means they are either stuck under the gum or may have been able to only partially break through the gum and a small portion of the tooth can be seen in the mouth.
A wisdom tooth may be sitting at an angle that is causing it to bump into the tooth in front which stops it from moving into the mouth.
Problems caused by impacted wisdom teeth can include infection, pain, cysts, ulcers, food can become stuck and tooth decay can develop on the wisdom tooth or the tooth in front that the wisdom tooth is butting into.
If impacted wisdom teeth are causing problems, your dentist may recommend removing them.
Removing wisdom teeth
There are several reasons why wisdom teeth may be removed.
- The teeth are impacted.
- They are at risk of developing tooth decay or gum disease.
- The gum around the wisdom tooth becomes infected multiple times.
- They may be affected by a cyst or tumour.
Wisdom teeth can be removed by your general dentist or a dental specialist, such as an oral surgeon or a maxillofacial surgeon. The teeth can be removed in the dental chair or within a hospital.
Wisdom teeth may be removed under local anaesthesia. The anaesthetic is provided in a similar way to when a dentist makes a tooth numb for a filling.
Other types of anesthetic include local anesthetic in combination with conscious sedation, or general anaesthesia. Conscious sedation is a combination of medicines to help you relax and to block pain during a medical or dental procedure, such as nitrous oxide, commonly known as ‘happy gas’. These anaesthetics can be performed in hospitals and some dental clinics.
Risks and complications
The risks and complications of removing wisdom teeth will be explained prior to any treatment. Possible complications following wisdom tooth removal can include:
- Damage to the nerves that travel to and supply feeling to the wisdom teeth and nearby parts of the face. This can cause feelings of numbness or ‘pins and needles’ in the parts of the face and mouth that these nerves give feeling to.
- A dry socket.
- Swelling and/or infection.
- Damage to nearby teeth.
- Difficulty opening the mouth, often associated with swelling.
- Excessive bleeding.
- An opening from the mouth to the maxillary sinus (upper wisdom teeth only).