Millions of patients have their wisdom teeth removed each. If a dentist recommends wisdom teeth removal (extraction) for you or someone you know, it’s natural that questions will arise.

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth, also known as “third molars,” typically appear in the mouth between the ages of 17 and 25. Most people have four wisdom teeth (two in the top arch of teeth and two in the bottom), but some people may have just one, two, three, or even none. When wisdom teeth break through the gum, they are said to have “erupted.”

What is an impacted wisdom tooth?

Wisdom teeth are considered to be impacted when they fail to erupt or only partially erupt through the gum tissue. Impacted wisdom teeth are very common and often cause no pain or problems. It’s important to remember that whether they are erupted or impacted, it is possible for wisdom teeth to cause problems if they are not properly cared for by brushing, flossing, and having regular visits to your dentist.

Should I have my wisdom teeth removed?

You should discuss your options with your dentist before making any decisions regarding your removal. Depending on the current state of your wisdom teeth (such as whether or not they are impacted, the position in which they are erupting, and how they may be affecting the teeth adjacent to your wisdom teeth), your dentist will recommend the best course of action for you. Your dentist may also refer you to an oral surgeon, a dentist who specializes in of wisdom teeth, for further evaluation.

What does the American Dental Association say about the removal of wisdom teeth?

There are different schools of thought surrounding the removal of wisdom teeth. According to the American Dental Association, the extraction of wisdom teeth is generally recommended when:

  • Wisdom teeth only partially erupt. This leaves an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection. Pain, swelling, jaw stiffness and general illness can result.
  • There is a chance that poorly aligned teeth will damage adjacent teeth.
  • A cyst (fluid-filled sac) forms, destroying surrounding structures such as bone or tooth roots.

What questions should I ask my dentist about the removal of wisdom teeth?

  • Do I have wisdom teeth, and if so, how many?
  • Why should I or shouldn’t I have my wisdom teeth extracted?
  • What are the possible side effects and risks of having my wisdom teeth removed?
  • What are the risks if I choose to keep my wisdom teeth?
  • If I choose to keep my wisdom teeth, what changes should I make to my oral care routine?

How long does it take to recover from wisdom teeth removal?

In most cases, the recovery period lasts only a few days. Take painkillers as prescribed by your dentist or oral surgeon.

What precautions should I take after wisdom teeth removal?

  • Relax after surgery. Physical activity may increase bleeding.
  • Eat soft foods, such as gelatin, pudding, or a thin soup. Gradually add solid foods to your diet as healing progresses.
  • Do not use a straw for the first few days. Sucking on a straw can loosen the blood clot and delay healing.

Jean Brown research is currently conducting a study of an investigational medication to treat pain associated with the extraction of wisdom teeth. Read more about how to participate in the wisdom tooth removal study here.