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Do you still have your wisdom teeth? Wisdom teeth generally make an appearance between the ages of 18 and 21, and many dentists recommend removing them. Why is this? And what are wisdom teeth, anyway?

It’s thought that wisdom teeth are vestigial. In other words, while our ancient ancestors needed wisdom teeth for grinding tough foods, the discovery of fire made them obsolete. Because the foods that early people ate ground down their teeth, a third set of molars was necessary to get them through old age, which was actually about 35 years old at the time. Our jaws are smaller now, and typically don’t have room for all of those teeth. Some people never get wisdom teeth, and for some people, they never erupt from the gums. When this happens, it can cause a number of oral complications. Even if they do make an appearance, wisdom teeth often come in crooked or even on their sides. That’s why, for about 85 percent of people who develop them, wisdom teeth removal is recommended.

The clinical term for wisdom teeth that are positioned abnormally is “impacted.” Impacted wisdom teeth don’t emerge normally because they’re trapped within the jaw. This can cause an infection or a cyst that damages the roots of other teeth. In fact, impacted wisdom teeth can even damage the bones supporting your teeth. Impaction is the primary reason that wisdom teeth are removed. According to the American Dental Association, failing to remove impacted wisdom teeth can result in further, more serious oral complications. Impacted wisdom teeth can be painful because of the pressure they put on neighboring teeth. They can become infected, causing painful, swollen gums, discharge or bleeding, bad breath, swollen lymph nodes, a low-grade fever, and the inability to chew with the molars. If your impacted wisdom teeth are infected, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic so that the infection doesn’t spread throughout your body during the extraction process.

If your wisdom teeth are healthy, have grown in completely, are positioned correctly in relation to the other teeth in your mouth, and can be effectively cleaned using your regular hygiene practices, they may not need to come out. However, sometimes even “healthy” wisdom teeth need to be removed. One reason for this is that wisdom teeth are more cavity-prone than other teeth. They’re located very far back in the mouth, where it’s hard to reach them when brushing and flossing. More than that, though, is the danger posed by wisdom teeth. Even if they’re not currently causing a problem, they can reposition themselves at any time, becoming impacted and causing infection.

The extraction process varies from case to case. How long does wisdom teeth removal take? It depends on your particular situation, but typically, it takes 45 minutes or less. For some patients, the extraction is done without sedation, using only a local anesthetic. This is usually the case when the teeth have begun to erupt, making them about as simple to extract as any other tooth. The mouth is numbed with injections and the patient feels a tugging or pulling sensation but no pain.

If the teeth are impacted, however, the procedure may be more extensive. Sometimes the tooth must be removed in sections so that it doesn’t disturb too much bone tissue. When the procedure is complicated, the patient may be given sedation anesthesia or even general anesthesia. To remove impacted wisdom teeth, an incision is made in the gums, exposing the tooth and jawbone. The bone around the tooth’s root is removed, after which the tooth is extracted, either whole or in smaller sections. The doctor cleans debris from the tooth socket, and the wound is sometimes stitched shut, though that step is not always necessary.

Is wisdom teeth removal painful? During the procedure, there is generally no pain. After the surgery, during the wisdom teeth removal recovery period, there may be some pain after the anesthesia wears off. Your dentist may prescribe pain medication for you, or you may be fine with over-the-counter pain relievers. Recovery time for wisdom teeth removal is usually about two days.

What’s the best age to have your wisdom teeth removed? Some dentists prefer to remove wisdom teeth at a young age, because the roots and bone are not yet fully formed. This makes both the procedure and the recovery period easier. Typically, wisdom teeth removal is done between the ages of 18 and 24. The teeth cannot be extracted safely until the roots of the teeth have reached about two-thirds of the size they’ll be when the teeth are fully developed. However, wisdom teeth that are causing problems can be extracted at any age. It’s important to note that people over the age of 24 may need more complicated surgery and experience a longer recovery time, with a greater likelihood of developing complications.

Whether you need dental care or health care, Brevard Health Alliance, Inc. can help. Brevard County’s only Federally Qualified Health Center, BHA offers extensive health care services on a sliding-fee scale, so that we can treat residents regardless of their ability to pay. We’re committed to providing an extraordinary quality of care for our patients in order to improve the health status of Brevard County. Our focus is on continually improving the quality and efficiency of our care, and on ensuring that every patient we serve is heard, encouraged, and respected. As your family health care provider, we strive to provide not just acute care but also preventive care and health care related education. Our board certified physicians, advanced practice nurse practitioners, and physician assistance provide primary care that includes well child checkups, well woman care, and physicals, along with chronic disease management. In fact, since 2005 we’ve provided not only primary care services, but also behavioral health services, dental services, diagnostic services, resource management services, pharmacy services, women’s health care and obstetrics, Hepatitis C and HIV services, extended hours pediatric walk-in care, and specialty referrals. For more information, to find a location, or to make an appointment, contact us through our website.

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