Wisdom Teeth: What You Need to Know

Wisdom Teeth: What You Need to Know

Your teething days are not over in elementary school. Just when you fancy yourself an adult, you may have to deal with your wisdom teeth coming in, bringing back those long ago days of gum swelling and tenderness.

This third set of molars said to come in when you are old enough to have gained some wisdom, is often troublesome and frequently have to be removed, although some lucky people keep their set through adulthood. It pays to be prepared regarding your teeth, and you need to know a bit about these “extra molars” so you’ll be ready when they make their appearance.

Wisdom Teeth Purpose

Experts theorize that wisdom teeth were necessary for early humans to properly chew their hard-to-digest diet. Raw meat and stringy plants were too much for two sets of molars. Those foods required a strong stomach and stronger teeth. Modern men and women don’t need these extra teeth for their softer, less fibrous diet.


Don’t bet on when your wisdom teeth will come in. They are unpredictable and may keep you guessing for years. Most do break through the gum sometime in the late teenage years or early twenties. Some people never get wisdom teeth, and frankly, they don’t miss them.

Wisdom Teeth Problems

Wisdom teeth have a bad rap because they often come in crooked and/or impacted, causing a variety of symptoms. Not all wisdom teeth are an issue, however. Some come in straight and function well for a lifetime, so you don’t need to dread them unless you develop problems.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Impacted wisdom teeth are those that cannot come in completely because they are blocked. Many people simply do not have room in their mouths for these teeth. Sometimes impacted wisdom teeth are painful, but not always. They are a significant risk for infection, and they may also adversely affect nearby teeth, causing misalignment, gum issues, and decay. For these reasons, you cannot afford to ignore impacted wisdom teeth.

Wisdom Teeth Signs

Some lucky folks have zero pain or discomfort when their wisdom teeth arrive. Others won’t be as lucky. When your wisdom teeth are coming in, you may experience the following symptoms:
  • Jaw pain in the back of your mouth
  • Swollen gums or breaks in the gums
  • Earaches or headaches
  • Intense pain that spreads to the head, eyes or ears.
If these symptoms persist, your wisdom teeth may be the issue.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction

You may not experience any serious symptoms with wisdom teeth. If you do have significant pain or red, swollen gums, you should visit your dentist for treatment. In the past, dental health professionals would often remove your wisdom teeth simply to prevent problems. That approach has gone out of favor, but if wisdom teeth are causing you issues such as infection, impaction, crowding or gum disease, an oral surgeon will remove them for you.

The Procedure

For many patients, wisdom tooth removal is a minor inconvenience. You will receive some type of anesthesia at the clinic, although not everyone gets general sedation. You may simply get a local or IV sedation. Your doctor will consult with you about which approach will work best.
Since some wisdom teeth are impacted or crowded, the surgeon may have to cut into your gums or even bone to remove them. In that case, you will have stitches that will dissolve on their own. The entire procedure is often done in under an hour. You may feel groggy when you wake up, so you should have someone accompany you for the surgery. You will probably miss a minimal amount of work and experience little pain afterward.


In the period immediately after the procedure, you can use ice and/or heat to ease swelling and soreness. Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers or simply recommend OTC medication. Your diet should be limited to soft or liquid foods like soup or pasta. You should avoid using a straw or eating hard or sticky foods. Smoking is strictly prohibited since inhaling puts strain on your stitches and the practice itself slows healing. For many, the recovery process is speedy, allowing them to quickly resume their normal schedules. If you follow post-op instructions, you will probably be in that group.


If you experience excessive bleeding, severe pain, a persistent fever or discharge, you should call your doctor. Some patients do experience infection after wisdom tooth removal, requiring them to take antibiotics. Rarely, other complications can arise.
You may get your wisdom teeth at age 18 and experience zero problems. Some people keep their wisdom teeth their entire lives and barely notice them. Others do have issues that require treatment. If you have significant mouth pain or inflamed gums, you need to see your dental professional. These symptoms may be the result of impacted or crooked wisdom teeth that must be treated.

If you do need them removed, you should expect a quick and nearly painless procedure that requires only a short recovery period. Despite the stories, wisdom teeth issues can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

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