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Why do we have wisdom teeth? Do they always need extraction?

17 April 2019
From silly to wise, these are some of the most commonly asked questions about wisdom teeth removal.
Why do we have wisdom teeth? Do they always need extraction?

Know your wisdom teeth a little better

How do I know if I have wisdom teeth?

If you have 32 teeth, you definitely have wisdom teeth or third molars as they are also called. These are generally the very back teeth on the top and bottom, left and right.

Sometimes, the wisdom teeth do not erupt, staying in the jawbone where you cannot see them. Your dentist can take x-rays to determine if you have wisdom teeth if they are not visible. Typically, wisdom teeth appear around the age of 18.

Does everyone have wisdom teeth?

No, not everyone has wisdom teeth. In fact, studies show that nearly 35% of people are missing wisdom teeth. This could be either because their wisdom teeth have not erupted or it could be in relation to genes. A study found that 53% of people get at least one wisdom tooth and men were more likely to have them than women.

Why do we have wisdom teeth if they are never used?

You can blame our ancestors for it. They survived on a diet of raw meat, nuts, roots, berries and leaves. Chewing these tough, coarse, and rugged foods required a broader jaw and strong molars—including the wisdom teeth.

Did you know the prevalence of wisdom teeth is one of the ways anthropologists discover the age of a skeleton?

Now of course, we eat softer foods and have the luxury of knives and forks, so their contribution to chewing food is less important.

Does having wisdom teeth mean I am wise?

Wisdom teeth typically appear around 18 years of age. Since they appear later in life, you’re at least ‘wiser’ than when your first and second molars appeared, hence the name.

I am in high school. Could I need to remove of wisdom teeth?

Possibly. Wisdom teeth can start forming from the age of 10, although they typically erupt much later (around 18 years). If your mouth does not have sufficient space to cater for these new molars or they are causing you pain due to being impacted (stuck), your dentist may suggest removing them. This could even be in your early teens.

Will my wisdom teeth grow back after extraction?

Not usually. Although, some people have more than four wisdom teeth.


Got a question on wisdom teeth removal?

Why and when do wisdom teeth need to be removed?

Wise only in name, wisdom teeth spell pain and trouble for most people. Sometimes, the wise thing to do is extract them. They’re typically removed when they are stuck or impacted, causing pain and/or affecting other teeth around them.

Your dentist can suggest removing them as a preventative measure if for example your mouth is too small to make way for them later. As you get older, the bones in your mouth get harder, so often dentists will suggest removing your wisdom teeth to prevent problems later in life.

Is removal of wisdom teeth very painful? Is there any alternative to their extraction?

Traditionally wisdom teeth extraction was very painful. But dentistry has advanced greatly and thanks to local anesthetic, improved technique and post-surgery pain management, the process is very bearable now. Don’t expect a pain free procedure though.

Some wisdom teeth may be easier and less painful to extract than others. But, this is totally dependent on how badly your wisdom teeth are impacted.

Will I be awake during my wisdom teeth removal surgery?

It depends. It’s common to be awake during your wisdom teeth extraction surgery, relying on local anesthetic, injected near the extraction site to numb the gums. Although you will feel some pressure and movement, it’s unlikely you will experience pain during the procedure. Sometimes though it might be recommended to be sedated with anesthesia to suppress your consciousness during the surgery. In this scenario you have limited memory of the procedure. In special circumstances general anesthesia may be used. This is when you lose complete consciousness.

Will removal of wisdom teeth affect my jawline or face structure?

Some people find they have extra definition after removing their wisdom teeth, however it is unlikely that your face structure is redefined by this procedure.

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Recovery from wisdom teeth extraction

How long do I have to be on a soft foods diet after wisdom teeth removal?

Recovery from wisdom teeth extraction varies from person to person. Typically, your dentist or oral surgeon will recommend only eating soft foods such as yoghurt, apple sauce or ice cream for the first 24 to 48 hours after the procedure. Cold foods may have a soothing effect on your surgery wound.

On the third day you can usually start eating semi-solid foods such as eggs, oats etc. Intake of such foods needs to be gradually increased till it no longer causes pain and discomfort. Many people resume eating normally within a week of their procedure.

How long does it take to completely recover from wisdom teeth extraction?

Recovery varies from person to person and depends on how difficult your extraction surgery was. In most cases it can take up to two weeks for someone to recover from their wisdom teeth removal surgery. If the wound becomes infected, recovery can take longer. Complete recovery of the wound can take months.

Can I expedite recovery from wisdom teeth surgery?

There is no formula to quicker recovery; however, if you follow the instructions from your surgeon on post-op care, your recovery shouldn’t be long. Some additional tips to aid a painless and quick healing are:

  • Keep your head elevated as the blood vessels and blood volumes around your wound may be affected when lying flat and rupture the wound.
  • Apply ice near the extraction site and avoid exposing the wound to heat.
  • Massage your jaw joints from time to time to ease the jaw muscles that could have tightened from the surgical process.
  • Always keep your mouth fresh by drinking a lot of water. This could help prevent bacteria around the wound area.
  • Drink coconut water. It contains essential electrolytes to help maintain sugar levels that may be affected due to non-consumption of solids while you recover.
  • Avoid extremely hot food as it can burn the site of the surgery.
  • Don’t eat grains or hard foods that can get stuck in the cavity of where your wisdom tooth was.
  • Don’t drink from a straw or slurp too vigorously as that can dislodge the blood clot or ruin the stitches.

When can I smoke after getting my wisdom teeth removed?

Let’s just make one thing clear. Smoking is not good for your health and we do not recommend it. So getting your wisdom teeth out could be an opportunity to quit.

If you must, delay picking up your cigarette to as late as possible, as smoking after wisdom teeth removal can cause complications that lead to extended recovery time. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), smoking increases the risk of dry socket (a condition when the blood clot that normally fills the socket is lost, leaving the underlying nerves exposed).


Pain management

How can you manage wisdom teeth related pain before surgery?

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause a lot of pain due to infection and swollen gums. It is common to experience pain in your ear and head as well when your wisdom teeth are giving trouble. Here are some natural remedies that could help reduce the pain, although extraction is usually the suggested course of action by surgeons for impacted wisdom teeth:

  • Rinse with warm salt water to help keep your mouth clear of harmful bacteria.
  • Drink peppermint to calm the inflammation of gums. You can rub peppermint oil directly on gums or have cooled peppermint tea.
  • Apply clove oil. It helps reduce the pain and fight the harmful bacteria.
  • Use aloe vera to help reduce inflammation, provide temporary pain relief and help with the healing of gums while your teeth erupt.
  • An alternate to clove oil is to put tea tree oil on your gums. It is a powerful antibacterial agent, killing bacteria on your gum line. However, this oil should not be swallowed. Make sure you rinse and spit out. Use only in diluted form.
  • Try crushed ginger and garlic (paste consistency) on your gums. It’s been found to be an effective killer of pathogens.
  • Take pain relievers such as Panadol as per their recommended dosage.
  • Dilute menthol and apply to cool your gums when wisdom teeth are erupting.
  • Rinse or spread turmeric on your gums to reduce the toothache. Turmeric’s an analgesic with anti-inflammatory qualities which could help.
  • Alternate apply heat and cold packs to your jaw. Give a 15 minute break between the two applications and always finish with a cold pack.
  • Drink wheatgrass juice for the high chlorophyll content. Wheatgrass helps to reduce inflammation and prevent the bacteria that can cause infections. It can also prevent tooth decay and heal wounds.

Wisdom teeth extraction - the cost

How much does wisdom tooth extraction cost?

The cost of extracting wisdom teeth can vary greatly, depending on your chosen practitioner as well as the complication (or lack of) of your condition. Costs can vary between $300 - $5,000+

People on low income who have a Community Services Card may be able to get free emergency dental care such as extractions. These are provided by public hospitals and selected dentists.

Contact 0800 TALK TEETH to find out more.

You can find out more about government support for dental treatments here.

Does dental private health insurance cover wisdom teeth removal?

Yes, dental treatments such as wisdom teeth extraction may be covered in your private health insurance. Dental treatments performed by a registered dental practitioner or oral surgeon are covered under nib’s Everyday Cover.

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Important things to know

Information correct as at April 2019

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