As far as teeth go, wisdom teeth are rather infamous. They’re often associated with a variety of dental troubles including impaction, dry sockets and other painful conditions. If you’re faced with upcoming issues related to your wisdom teeth, you might feel confused and even frightened. Fortunately, wisdom tooth treatments are often easier, less painful and more affordable than many people realize.
Let’s take a deeper look at what wisdom teeth are, what potential problems can develop and what solutions are available.
What are Wisdom Teeth?
Everybody has four types of teeth. At the front of your mouth, eight incisors help with biting and talking. Next are four pointed cuspid teeth, one next to each set of incisors, which are used to cut food. Behind the cuspids are the bi-cuspids. Also called premolars, bi-cuspids help with general chewing.
All the way back in your mouth are your molars. These wide, flat teeth are designed for grinding food, especially plants. If you’re like most people, you have 12 molars total – six on the top and six on the bottom. But having an extra molar (or any other tooth) is surprisingly common.
When Do Wisdom Teeth Emerge?
Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars to emerge, usually pushing through the gum line between the ages of 17 and 25. This late eruption date is actually the reason for the “wisdom teeth.” Your wisdom teeth emerge once your jaw has finished growing. They’re the very last teeth in each row – and they appear whether or not enough space is available.
What Problems Do Wisdom Teeth Have?
More than any other type of teeth, wisdom teeth are likely to develop problems. Their unique placement and late emergence times tend to put them in conflict with the other teeth. Your dentist will use X-rays and other diagnostic methods to monitor your wisdom teeth, usually starting in your teen years.
Wisdom teeth often don’t emerge correctly. They can become impacted, which meant they’re trapped at least partially in your gums or jaw. Impacted wisdom teeth can result in infections, cysts and pain.
Because they’re so large and wide, wisdom teeth can also easily move your other teeth, gums and even your jawbone. Wisdom teeth which emerge incorrectly often create spaces in your mouth for bacteria to grow. Even wisdom teeth which emerge “correctly” can crowd the rest of your teeth and push them forward.
When are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
The potential problems associated with wisdom teeth are well-established and complex. The potential benefits of keeping your wisdom teeth are minimal. You can still eat, drink and talk perfectly fine without wisdom teeth. So, while oral surgery is never taken lightly, most dental professionals typically recommend wisdom tooth removal at the first sign of a potential problem.
How are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Wisdom tooth removal is a fairly routine surgical procedure. The oral surgeon will cut into your gum line and jaw (as necessary) to remove the wisdom tooth. Small stitches are then used to close the incision. Finally, gauze pads are usually placed in the mouth to control bleeding.
Either local or general anesthesia will be used. Local anesthesia numbs only your mouth while general renders you unconscious. You and your dentist will decide on which type makes the most sense for your needs (and overall comfort level).
What is Recovery Time Like?
Expect to spend about three days at home and away from normal activities. You’ll experience facial swelling, gum sensitivity and probably general discomfort. However, most wisdom tooth pain can be controlled – and isn’t as bad as you might have heard.
Ice packs help numb pain and reduce swelling. Over-the-counter pain remedies tend to work well, although your dentist might prescribe a pain reliever for short-term use. After a few days, you should feel well enough to ease back into normal life.
Soft foods, lots of liquids and following your dentist’s advice carefully will help recovery be pain-free, productive and quick. The biggest problem to avoid is dry socket, which happens when the extraction site does not form a blood clot. Without the protective clot, bone is exposed which causes pain and delays healing is delayed. Dry socket typically happens during the first 48 hours after extraction, and will usually make itself known – with throbbing pain – on the third day. It can be caused by using a straw to sip drinks (sucking is a primary cause of dry socket), smoking cigarettes or vaping (the heat, chemicals, nicotine and sucking on a cigarette prevent the clot from forming. And if you vape, sucking on your vaping device can cause dry socket), rinsing your mouth vigorously, hot or too cold drinks, and other issues. Your dentist will help you throughout your recovery period, which usually takes about a month.
How Much Do Healthy Wisdom Teeth Cost?
Will keeping your wisdom teeth save you money? After all, you’re not paying for any type of oral surgery. Unfortunately, avoiding extraction today can leave you with major dental bills later.
The ideal time to remove problem wisdom teeth is typically before they start to emerge – but this depends on what your dentist feels is best for your oral health. Surgery only becomes more complex (and expensive) once existing teeth have started to shift. Plus, even wisdom teeth which emerge perfectly are still much more likely to develop cavities than any other teeth. In the long run, removing wisdom teeth is usually more cost-effective than keeping them.
Dental insurance can sometimes help lower the costs of oral surgery, but coverage limits (typically $1000-$1500 a year) can be an issue. Another option to help make a wisdom tooth extraction more affordable is a dental discount plan. Plan members get discounts of 15% to 60% on many dental procedures, including check-ups and – depending on the selected plan – wisdom tooth extraction. Discount plans can be used within 72 hours of purchase which can make them an effective option if you’ve recently learned your wisdom teeth need to be extracted.
Your wisdom teeth don’t need to have a negative impact on your dental health. Working with your dentist, wisdom teeth problems can be effectively and affordably treated.