Wisdom teeth are one of the things we get asked about the most. There is a lot of confusion around wisdom teeth – what they are, who has them, what to do when they hurt and when you should get them removed. We’ve pulled together a list of some of the most frequently asked questions we get relating to wisdom teeth to hopefully help to answer some of your questions and put your mind at ease about wisdom teeth and how to look after them.
What are wisdom teeth?
Before we dig into some of the most commonly asked questions about your wisdom teeth, let’s first talk about what your wisdom teeth actually are.
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, three or all four of their wisdom teeth erupting.
These large teeth usually make themselves known when a person enters adulthood, during the late teens to early 20s. 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.
Why are wisdom teeth called wisdom teeth?
Sadly, this has nothing to do with wisdom, but more to do with the time they start to appear. As the old saying goes, with age comes wisdom and as wisdom teeth don’t typically erupt into a person’s mouth until our late teens and early 20s, they earned the named wisdom teeth.
For some people, wisdom teeth never arrive at all so despite people reaching a wise old age, their wisdom teeth don’t agree!
Where are wisdom teeth located?
Wisdom teeth are located at the back quadrant of your mouth – two at the top and two at the bottom.
Of course, not everyone has wisdom teeth (more on that below) so it’s quite possible that these third molars might never appear.
Does everyone have wisdom teeth?
No. Not everyone has wisdom teeth. Recent studies show that as many as 35 per cent of us don’t have wisdom teeth.
In fact, some scientists believe that third molars may disappear completely. Evolution has seen the shape of our faces change, narrowing our jaw to make more room in our skulls. Scientists believe that this could lead to wisdom teeth becoming extinct.
They are no longer required and as our bodies change and adapt to the world around us, wisdom teeth could well be a thing of the past in years to come.
Do you need wisdom teeth?
Whilst wisdom teeth were once necessary for chewing raw meat and eating tough leaves, those times are long gone. As soon as we started to cook our food, the need for wisdom teeth has gradually declined over the years.
For people that do have wisdom teeth, they do offer some help with chewing, however, they are not necessary and as we mention above, scientists believe that they might one day become extinct.
When do wisdom teeth come through?
For most people, if wisdom teeth are going to come through, then it will typically happen in their late teens or early 20s. This is the most common time for wisdom teeth to erupt into the mouth.
For some, wisdom teeth might not come through until much later in life and at Hamilton Dental Centre, we get patients in their 60s and 70s who are only just starting to see wisdom teeth coming through.
Then there are those who never have their wisdom teeth come through.
What causes wisdom teeth to come in?
There is no clear reason why wisdom teeth erupt into the mouth when they do. Historically, it is likely that this is when the mouth reached maturity and the teeth were required for chewing. Whilst most people experience the eruption of their wisdom teeth between the ages of 17 and 21, wisdom teeth can erupt at any time of life which only adds to the mystery of why they come in when they do.
The difference between wisdom teeth eruption and an impacted wisdom tooth
Whilst we refer to the eruption of wisdom teeth above, this typically refers to the “normal” eruption of wisdom teeth into the mouth. This is the moment the wisdom teeth break through the gum line and lines up alongside the other teeth in your mouth.
It is very common, however, for wisdom teeth to develop in the wrong position. This is called an impacted wisdom tooth. A tooth can impact in four different ways and this can be extremely painful and lead to a number of issues. Impacted wisdom teeth usually need to be removed by a dentist and this is what most people think about when they think about wisdom teeth.
How to prepare for wisdom teeth surgery
Whilst the thought of wisdom teeth removal can be quite daunting, it is a very common procedure so you can relax. It is not as bad as you think.
If you have been experiencing pain in the area of your wisdom teeth, don’t delay. Book in to see your dentist as soon as possible. That way, any issues with an impacted wisdom tooth can quickly be identified and a plan put in place.
Your dentist may decide that removal is the best thing for your long-term oral health and to avoid any issues later in life as your wisdom teeth erupt. They will discuss this with you and schedule an appointment for wisdom tooth surgery.
Before your wisdom teeth surgery, there are a few things you can do to make your life easier after your surgery. Here are a few tips:
- Book some time off work. Whilst the procedure is routine and won’t cause too much discomfort, everyone reacts in a different way and there can be some pain after the surgery which means taking a couple of days off work.
- Organise a lift. Your wisdom teeth removal will be carried out under anaesthetic which can make you feel pretty groggy. Make sure you have got someone available to drive you home after your surgery.
- Stock up on pain relief. Over-the-counter pain relief is often required to help to manage any pain and reduce any swelling. Stock up before your surgery so you are all set when you get home.
- After your surgery, you will need to avoid eating any hard or crunchy food (see below). Make sure you stock up on soft food items prior to your surgery so you have something on hand that is easy to eat (see the list below for ideas).
Your dentist will talk through the procedure with you in your initial appointment and this is a good time to ask any questions you might have about how to prepare, how long it will take, and any questions relating to your own personal circumstances.
How long does it take to have wisdom teeth removed?
Typically, a wisdom teeth removal surgery will last approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. During that time, you will be given an anaesthetic to numb your mouth, so you won’t feel any pain during the removal process.
What foods to eat after getting wisdom teeth out
As we discussed above, following your wisdom teeth surgery, you will likely feel some pain and discomfort. This will be centred around the areas where your wisdom teeth were removed, but may also spread to other areas of your mouth.
For this reason, most people prefer to eat soft foods following wisdom teeth removal. Anything hard and crunchy can lead to more pain so make sure you stock up your fridge and cupboards with soft foods that will be easy to eat. Here are some ideas of the types of food that people tend to go for:
- Mashed potatoes
Ice cream is another popular choice as people enjoy the cooling sensation.
Why do all my teeth hurt after wisdom teeth removal?
Whilst the areas from which your wisdom teeth were removed will be the most painful and uncomfortable following wisdom teeth surgery, it is not unusual for people to feel discomfort in their mouth and an aching of all their teeth.
This is known as a referred pain and will be temporary. Pain to the adjacent teeth to the wisdom teeth that were removed can also be painful or experience an aching sensation. This is typically down to inflammatory reactions and pressure on these teeth following the extraction.
Following a wisdom tooth extraction – either one, two, three or all four – there is an adjustment period for your other teeth as the inflammation settles down and your teeth and gums adjust to having your wisdom teeth removed.
Can wisdom teeth grow back?
No. Like all the teeth in your mouth, once your wisdom teeth have been removed, they can never grow back.
There have been examples of people having more than the usual four wisdom teeth, however, this is extremely uncommon. These additional teeth are known as supernumerary teeth and they can appear anywhere in the mouth, not just where your wisdom teeth are found.
If you have regular visits with your dentist, however, these would be picked up on any dental x-ray so wouldn’t come as a surprise.
How can you make wisdom teeth pain go away?
Wisdom teeth can cause pain and discomfort and this can be down to a number of reasons.
Even a normal eruption, where your wisdom teeth come through in line with your other teeth, can cause discomfort as they break through the gum line.
One of the main causes of pain is an impacted wisdom tooth/teeth. You can read more about impacted wisdom teeth in a recent post.
Of course, after you have had your wisdom teeth removed, you are likely to experience some pain and discomfort for at least a couple of days after your surgery. The best way to treat pain in your wisdom teeth is to use an ice pack on your face to help to reduce any swelling. You can also take over-the-counter pain relief which will also help with inflammation.
If you are experiencing a sore jaw, a heat pack can provide some relief. Following wisdom teeth surgery, over time, you may find that light jaw exercises help to ease your discomfort.
One other potential cause of pain following wisdom teeth surgery is something called dry socket. This a condition that happens when the socket left after a wisdom tooth removal either doesn’t develop a blood clot or the blood clot is dislodged before the hole heals. You can read more about dry sockets and how to prevent them in a recent post.
What happens if you don’t get your wisdom teeth removed?
For many people, getting your wisdom teeth removed is not necessary. Even people who experience impacted wisdom teeth don’t always need to have them removed. If your wisdom teeth are impacted but they are not causing you any issues, then your dentist will likely leave them and continue to monitor them at regular check-ups.
If your wisdom teeth do start to cause you pain or discomfort, however, it is likely that your dentist will recommend getting them removed.
Does health insurance cover wisdom teeth?
Here in New Zealand, if you have private health insurance, this will often cover the cost of any kind of tooth removal including wisdom teeth.
If you don’t have private health insurance, you will have to cover the cost of the surgery yourself. Your dentist will discuss this with you at your initial consultation. At Hamilton Dental Centre, we do have a range of interest-free payment options available that allow you to spread the cost of any treatment over 12 months. You can talk to our helpful team to learn more about our payment options.
Hopefully, you now know a lot more about the process of getting your wisdom teeth taken out, and understand a bit more about the process involved, some of the potential causes of pain and how to take care of yourself following wisdom tooth surgery.
Of course, if you want more information, our team is always on hand to answer any questions you might have.