Wisdom teeth are another name for any one of four third molars found in the permanent dentition. These teeth are the last or most posterior teeth in the dental arch. Although most people have wisdom teeth, it is possible for some or all of the third molars to never develop. It is also possible for a person to have more than four wisdom teeth. In many individuals, the wisdom teeth aren't visible because they have become impacted (not normally erupted through the gums) under the gingival tissue.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be extracted. When a wisdom tooth erupts cleanly through the tissue without compromising the adjacent tooth, the wisdom tooth can be retained in the mouth with little concern as long as the person is able to brush, floss, and clean it thoroughly. However, removal of the wisdom tooth is indicated if the tooth has partially erupted through the gingival tissue, causing inflammation and/or infection. A soft-tissue growth over a partially erupted wisdom tooth is referred to as an operculum. If bacteria become trapped under the operculum, an infection called pericoronitis can develop.
A wisdom tooth is extracted to correct an actual problem or to prevent problems that may come up in the future. Some of the problems that can occur when wisdom teeth come in are:
Once it has been determined that a wisdom tooth is problematic, extraction by an oral surgeon or qualified general dentist is usually indicated. Local anesthesia is administered to ensure the tooth can be pulled out without any discomfort. Many people will choose conscious sedation (being put into a sleepy state where pain signals are blocked) so they have little or no memory of having the wisdom teeth extracted. A minor surgery is then performed where the tissue and bone around the wisdom tooth are removed so that the tooth can be cleanly extracted from the socket. Several stitches may be needed to close athe surgical site and promote healing of the overlying tissue.
The initial recovery and healing from wisdom tooth extraction usually occurs over about three to five days. It is normal to have slight bleeding (oozing) from the site considering the surgical procedure performed. The minor bleeding (oozing) after extraction should start to ease after the first 24 hours. Pain medication is often prescribed to help with any postoperative symptoms and discomfort. Usually, Tylenol, an ice pack and a mild narcotic is enough to provide pain relief. Some patients may be prescribed antibiotics. The patient will be asked to eat soft foods for a few days and avoid spicy foods, tobacco and alcohol use, and excessive exercise. The best remedies for pain following extraction are rest and giving the area time to heal. Adhering to the postoperative instructions of the surgeon is important to minimize any complications. Complete healing of the gums may take three to four weeks.
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