Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that most people get in their late teens or early twenties. Sometimes these teeth can be a valuable asset to the mouth when healthy and properly aligned, but more often, they are misaligned and require removal. When wisdom teeth are misaligned, they may position themselves horizontally, be angled toward or away from the second molars, or be angled inward or outward. Poor alignment of wisdom teeth can crowd or damage adjacent teeth, the jawbone, or nerves. Wisdom teeth also can be impacted — they are enclosed within the soft tissue and/or the jawbone or only partially break through or erupt through the gum. Partial eruption of the wisdom teeth allows an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection, which results in pain, swelling, jaw stiffness, and general illness. Partially erupted teeth are also more prone to tooth decay and gum disease because their hard-to-reach location and awkward positioning makes brushing and flossing difficult.
Because of the pain impacted teeth create; all impacted teeth are examined to determine if surgical extraction is necessary. During extraction, the patient will be put under either a local or general anesthetic. For simple extractions, a local anesthetic will suffice, numbing the general area. Simple extractions are typically performed when the tooth is already visible and thus do not require any cutting, but some patients may be given a mild sedative to help with any discomfort or anxiety. The surgeon will then use an elevator to lift the tooth followed by forceps to remove it.
Dental extractions are a common procedure, and most people will have their wisdom teeth extracted at some point as these teeth are the most commonly impacted. There are relatively few complications arising from extraction, but patients may experience difficulty eating and localized pain in the days following extraction. Proper hygiene is important during this healing period to ensure that no bacteria is introduced to the surgical site. A surgeon may prescribe pain relievers for pain management and ice for any swelling that occurs.