Why remove the wisdom tooth?
The wisdom teeth are actually your third molars (molars are the large teeth right at the back of your mouth) Over thousands of years, the size of the human jaw has shrunk because our diet is much softer than that of our pre-historic forefathers. As a result, in many people the jaw is too small to accommodate all our teeth. Since the wisdom teeth are the last to erupt, they are often blocked by the second molar and may not be able to grow fully into the mouth. This awkward position (termed “impaction”) can make it extremely difficult to keep the wisdom tooth and the second molar clean. Consequently, many problems may develop:
- Decay of the wisdom tooth and/or the second molar
- Infection of the gums around the wisdom tooth
- Trapping of food between the wisdom tooth and second molar
- All of the above can lead to pain and swelling
- The impacted wisdom tooth often cannot come into contact with the teeth in the opposite jaw i.e. it is non-functional.
- In situations where the tooth is not functional and difficult to clean, the best course of treatment is to have it removed.
How is the wisdom tooth removed?
Wisdom teeth that have grown normally can be removed by extraction, just like any other tooth. However, impacted wisdom teeth are blocked by another tooth and hence cannot be simply “pulled out”. Surgical removal is required.
Your GP can carry out the surgery with you under local anaesthesia. You should feel no pain, but will be aware of what is happening around you. During the surgery, your GP may have to remove some bone around the wisdom tooth to free it. He may also have to cut the tooth into a few pieces so that it can be removed from the impacted position. Following the removal of the tooth, the gums will be stitched together to close the wound and to allow healing.
Are there any complications or side effects to the surgery? Is it safe?
Wisdom tooth surgery is generally very safe. However, as for all surgery, there are some risks and side effects. These are:
- Swelling and pain can be expected after the surgery. Your GP will prescribe painkillers and antibiotics to help reduce these.
- There may be prolonged bleeding. You will be given instructions on how to manage this.
- The second molar may become hyper-sensitive and a little shaky after the surgery. This is because it is so near to the wisdom tooth that it may be disturbed during the surgery.
- There is a very small chance that you could lose sensation in part of your lower lip and/or tongue. This is called parasthesia and is usually temporary. However, in some cases it may be irreversible.
Fig1. A wisdom tooth impacted against the second molar, surgical removal is required.