Wisdom teeth are so called, because unlike our other teeth, they want to push through when we are a bit older, and perhaps a bit wiser.
Let us answer the most common questions we get asked about wisdom teeth:
What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are our third molars, which are the last to erupt at the very back of our mouths.
Most people have 4 wisdom teeth, one at the back of each quadrant of the mouth.
Not everyone will experience the presence of wisdom teeth. Some people don’t get any wisdom teeth coming through, and others might only get one, two, or three of their wisdom teeth erupting.
These large teeth usually make themselves known when a person enters adulthood, during the late teens to early 20’s. They can cause a lot of discomfort as they move up and erupt through the tender gums.
It is believed that these teeth hark back to caveman times, when humans may have needed the extra teeth for gnawing on raw meat. Needless to say, this is less of a need now, in modern times.
How will I know if I am getting wisdom teeth?
It is usual that a young person will feel the following symptoms when a wisdom tooth is coming in:
- Gum Irritation
Before the eruption of the wisdom tooth, it would be normal for the gum behind the existing second molar, to become slightly swollen and irritated.
- Aches and Pains
As the wisdom tooth moves toward the surface of the gum, it is normal to feel dull aching jaw pain.
- Pain in Other Areas
Wisdom teeth can put pressure on the surrounding nerves, causing the sensation of pain around the jaw, eyes and ears.
Just before the tooth erupts through the gum, the gum may look bruised, turning red or dark pink.
- Small White Specks
You will see the points of the white tooth, as it finally starts to surface.
How can I relieve the pain of wisdom teeth coming in?
Whether for your teenager, or for yourself, here are our tips to provide some relief from the discomfort of wisdom teeth coming in:
- Cold Compress
If you moisten some flannels, and pop them in the freezer to cool, they make the perfect cold compress! Hold the cool flannel over an aching jaw for instant relief!
- Anti-Inflammatory Topical Gel
Head to your local pharmacy, and ask the pharmacist about oral anti-inflammatory gels available to buy over the counter.
These gels contain medications that relieve the pain of inflamed tissues in your mouth. You simply smear a little gel over the affected area, as advised by the pharmacist, or as per the instructions on the packaging.
- Simple Painkillers
There are two main types of simple painkillers available to buy in most convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies throughout New Zealand: Paracetamol (Panadol) and Ibuprofen (Nurofen).
It is important to read the packaging instructions, and to only take these medications as directed.
Both of these medications are excellent for the control of pain caused by a wisdom tooth pushing through.
What is the problem with wisdom teeth?
For some people, the wisdom teeth align properly and the surrounding gum tissue heals healthily, and the wisdom teeth cause no problems at all!
Unfortunately for others, there isn’t enough room for the extra third molars.
When there isn’t enough room for the wisdom teeth to develop or push through normally, they can become trapped. We call this ‘impacted’.
What are the complications of an impacted wisdom tooth?
Sometimes, the impacted wisdom tooth won’t cause any problems at all! If that is the case, the tooth can be left alone.
However, impacted wisdom teeth can often lead to the following dental problems:
- Damage to other teeth
When impacted wisdom teeth rub against other teeth, they can cause damage, increasing the risk of infection.
Wisdom teeth can also cause crowding in the mouth as they push other teeth around and this can lead to further issues and a need for straightening treatment.
- Gum disease
Sometimes the impacted wisdom teeth grow at a funny angle, and only partially erupt through the gum. This increases chance of gum disease developing around the tooth.
The wisdom teeth themselves can be at higher risk of decay when they grow awkwardly, and don’t sit correctly above the gumline. The become harder to keep clean, causing a higher level of tooth decay and more likelihood of cavities.
The wisdom tooth develops in a sac within the jawbone. The sac can fill with fluid, forming a cyst that can damage the jawbone, teeth and nerves.
Symptoms associated with these complications of impaction include:
- Swelling, particularly around the gums or around the jaw
- Jaw pain
- Bad breath
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- An unpleasant taste in your mouth
If you or your teenager are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should schedule a consultation with the dentist at Hamilton Dental Centre.