Teeth are something we use every day but sometimes they get taken for granted. That is until your wisdom teeth start growing and you begin to feel some sympathy for those teething babies that just won’t stop crying.
Wisdom teeth are third molars that grow at the back of your mouth – you get up to four, one in each corner. Most people get their wisdom teeth in their late teenage years and early twenties. They grow at the same time we should be getting wise, hence the name. Because they arrive after all your other teeth are in place it can be a squeeze which often means there isn’t enough room for them to grow through properly.
By the time your third molars start to emerge you’ll probably be wishing that your wisdom had stayed under your gums where it wasn’t causing you any bother. Some people are lucky enough not to go through teething as an adult and don’t get wisdom teeth at all.
If there is enough room, the wisdom teeth will come through without causing any more problems than slight discomfort.
If only a bit of the tooth is visible and part of it is covered by the gum it can become difficult to clean which means it can get sore and swollen. If this keeps happening it’s sometimes better to have the tooth removed.
If your wisdom tooth isn’t causing you any problems there’s no reason it can’t be a new addition to your mouth. If it is causing you pain, or not going to come through properly, your dentist will probably remove it. It depends on the tooth whether it is easy or difficult to remove. If the tooth is fully erupted it’s an easy enough process and just like removing any other tooth. If the tooth is under the gum it involves making an incision into the gum to extract the tooth.
If you feel that your wisdom tooth may be impacted you should see your dentist as soon as possible. It’s better for impacted wisdom teeth to be removed early rather than later – before the roots become formed and attach to the jaw.
If you are under 18 or under 19 and in full time education, are pregnant or have had a baby in the last year you’re entitled to free NHS dental treatment. Benefits including Job Seeker’s Allowance and disability living allowance also mean you’re exempt from paying for it (full list here)
The charges for NHS dental treatments changed in April this year so may be different from last time you went to the dentist. There are 3 bands of dental treatments of £18, £49 and £214 so you shouldn’t pay anything other than these three prices. If you’re concerned about a wisdom tooth a clinical examination will fall under band 1 and be £18. If you need a tooth taken out it will be band 2 and cost £49.
Loads of people get their wisdom teeth removed, so if we don’t need them why do they grow at all? Anthropologists think the teeth evolved as a response to the coarse, rough diet of our ancestors. We’re talking about those prehistoric humans millions of years ago who really needed their strong teeth to survive.
Back then there was no such thing as popping to the dentist when you’ve got a toothache so the appearance of wisdom teeth could have been handy backups when other teeth were lost and damaged. At this time the jaw was easily big enough to accommodate 32 teeth.
As humans evolved teeth became less important for getting food as we started using our hands more. This meant that jaws became smaller while brains became larger – researchers aren’t sure which came first but whichever way it was meant less space was available for the teeth.
Now we use cooking utensils and our food is a lot softer so there isn’t really any need for the third molar. Some people don’t get all four wisdom teeth and others don’t get any at all – maybe they’re just more evolved?
Some people are scared of going to the dentist and it’s the reason most people don’t go - but leaving an impacted wisdom tooth for too long could be much scarier. Depending on how anxious you are your dentist will decide whether a sedative is necessary – more often though a local anaesthetic will be used to numb the area surrounding the tooth.
Effects after the procedure can vary. If an incision has been made you may have dissolvable stitches which take up to 10 days to dissolve. Your dentist might get you to bite down on some gauze until a blood clot forms. This is necessary for the healing process so you should try not to dislodge it – you should not: drink hot liquids, rinse your mouth out, smoke, drink alcohol or do lots of physical activity.
After having a tooth removed you may feel sore so should take a pain medication such as paracetemol or ibuprofen. Your face might be swollen where the tooth was removed from but this should go down within a few days, using a cold cloth on the face will reduce the swelling. Your jaw may be stiff and sore and you may experience bruising on the face – this can take up to two weeks to go away. It’s good to eat soft foods for a few days so say hello to a lot of jelly and ice cream.