What’s the Point of Wisdom Teeth?

What's the Point of Wisdom Teeth?

A long time ago, wisdom teeth served a purpose. Today, they can lead to problems if there isn’t enough space to grow or if they come through in the wrong position. 

A standard dental procedure is getting wisdom teeth pulled. But what are wisdom teeth, and why do we have them?

Wisdom teeth are your third set of molars set far back in the mouth. They develop when you’re between the ages of 17 and 25. When the wisdom teeth cause pain and/or are impacted, it’s recommended to get them removed. Let’s look at how these teeth came into being in the first place and what will happen if you need them removed.

The history of wisdom teeth

Unfortunately, wisdom didn’t develop to make us wiser. The earliest humans needed wisdom teeth to chew uncooked, tough food. Their jaws widened to accommodate those four large molars. 

Over time, humans learned to cook food, making it softer and easier to chew. The human jaw shrank in size, with wisdom teeth no longer serving any purpose. But wisdom teeth still develop as we do! Most people nowadays grow at least one wisdom tooth. 

When you need a wisdom tooth removed

For some people, wisdom teeth cause no problems. Their jaws can make room for the extra molars. Others may experience these symptoms that indicate the wisdom tooth must go:

  • Pain and tenderness around the molar or molars.
  • Bleeding gums around the tooth.
  • Infected gums around the wisdom tooth.
  • Jaw pain and stiffness make it difficult to open the mouth.
  • A bad taste in the mouth and/or bad breath.
  • A cyst develops around the wisdom tooth.
  • Decay in the wisdom tooth.

Even if the wisdom tooth causes no symptoms, your dentist may recommend removal to prevent further damage or decay. The wisdom tooth will need to be extracted if it is impacted. An impacted wisdom tooth means the tooth is growing in at an odd angle that could affect nearby teeth or that the tooth sits along or within the jawbone.

If you need a wisdom tooth or teeth pulled, you’ll need to see an oral surgeon. They will guide you in preparing for the procedure

You’ll receive local anesthesia to numb the area around the tooth. You won’t feel pain but only a slight pressure as the tooth is removed. You can also choose to receive a sedation anesthetic that will put you to sleep during the procedure. In very rare cases, you’ll be under general anesthesia. 

Then, the oral surgeon makes an incision along the gum to reach the tooth and bone. Any bone material blocking the tooth root will be removed. The tooth is extracted, and the site is cleared of bone debris. Stitches may or may not be necessary. 

A gauze pad will be placed over the surgical site to remove any bleeding and help form a blood clot. The blood clot is important in the healing process. If the clot is dislodged, you could develop a dry socket, which exposes the bone and is quite painful.

Recovery from a wisdom tooth extraction

Post-operative complications are rare. In addition to dry socket, damage to the nerves, jawbone, and sinuses could occur. Look out for any signs of infections, as well.

It typically takes anywhere from a day to a week for complete recovery. To support healing, follow these tips:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medications to alleviate discomfort. Your doctor may give you a prescription for pain relief.
  • Eat soft foods for at least 24 hours.
  • Change the gauze pad following your doctor’s instructions. Do not spit out the blood, as that could dislodge the blood clot from the socket.
  • Sip plenty of water, but don’t drink alcoholic, caffeinated, or carbonated beverages for a day. Don’t use a straw, as the sucking action could move the blood clot out of the socket.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Rest for a day and then resume normal activities. Don’t do any strenuous exercise for a week.
  • Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and bruising along the cheeks.
  • Don’t brush your teeth the day after. Afterward, you can brush gently around the site. You can also rinse your mouth with warm salt water every two hours or after meals for a week.

Your doctor will remove any stitches in a follow-up appointment. Contact the dentist if you’re experiencing excessive bleeding, swelling, fever, or oozing from the surgical site. Severe pain, numbness, or difficulty breathing should also be reported to your doctor. If you notice any bloody discharge from your nose, contact your doctor. Although wisdom teeth removal can be scary, you’ll be completely healed in a very short time.

See us for your dental needs

Schedule an appointment at Espire’s Mission Valley location today! Our highly trained dentists will make your wisdom tooth extraction as easy as possible. Don’t live near our Mission Valley, CA office? Find one of our other locations near you.

Mission Valley, CA
8989 Rio San Diego Drive
Suite 170
San Diego, CA 92108