Third molars, or wisdom teeth, are usually the last four of the 32 teeth to surface in the mouth, appearing commonly in individuals between the ages of 17 to 25. They are located at the back of the mouth, both top and bottom, near the entrance to the throat.

For most people, inadequate space in the mouth does not not allow the wisdom teeth to fully erupt and become functional. When this happens, the tooth can become impacted (stuck) in an undesirable or potentially harmful position. When left untreated, impacted wisdom teeth can contribute to infection, damage to other teeth, and even cysts or tumors. Removal of some or all of the wisdom teeth is the typical treatment.

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Soft Tissue Impaction

The upper portion of the tooth (the crown) has penetrated through the bone, but the gingiva (gum) is covering part or all of the tooth’s crown and has not positioned properly around the tooth. Because it is difficult to keep the area clean, food can become trapped below the gum and cause an infection and/or tooth decay, resulting in pain and swelling.

Bony Impaction

Partial: The tooth has partially erupted, but a portion of the crown remains submerged below the gum and surrounding jawbone. Again, because it is difficult to keep the area clean, infection will commonly occur.

Complete: The tooth is completely encased by jawbone. This will require more complex removal techniques.

Wisdom Teeth Examination

As with any dental procedure, your dentist will want to initially conduct a thorough examination of the wisdom and surrounding teeth. Panoramic or digital x-rays will be taken in order for your dentist to evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and determine if a current problem exists, or the likelihood of any potential future problems. The x-rays can also expose additional risk factors, such as deterioration or decay of nearby teeth. Early evaluation and treatment (typically in the mid-teen years) is recommended in order to identify potential problems and to improve the results for patients requiring wisdom teeth extractions. Only after a thorough examination can your dentist provide you with the best options for your particular case.

What does the removal of wisdom teeth involve?

Wisdom teeth removal is a common procedure, generally performed under local anesthesia, intravenous (IV) sedation, or general anesthesia by a specially trained dentist in an office surgery suite. The surgery does not require an overnight stay, and you will be released with post-operative instructions and medication (if necessary), to help manage any swelling or discomfort.