Wise up about wisdom teeth

March 15th, 2018

Over our adult life, many of us have dealings with wisdom teeth. But how much do you really know about them? Why are they there? Why do we sometimes encounter problems with our wisdom teeth? And what can we do about the issues that arise?

As adults we can generally expect to have up to 32 teeth. Our wisdom teeth are the very last ones to appear. And unlike the others, they tend to appear a little later in life, normally when we are between the ages of 17 and 25 (though they can also appear many years later). However, our jaws are often too small to comfortably fit 32 teeth. Most people tend to have room for about 28. Therefore, when our wisdom teeth start to come through, there isn’t always room for them to come through properly. This is when we may begin to experience problems.

At this point it’s worth saying that not all wisdom teeth lead to problems. Provided there is enough room for the tooth to come through, they will generally slot into a convenient position, and cause us no more problems than we might expect from another tooth in our mouth. So, other than some slight discomfort when they initially come through, we may not experience any further problems.

However, often there is not enough room for our wisdom teeth to come through. This can lead to the tooth trying to break through but getting ‘stuck’ against the tooth that is in front of it. These ‘impacted’ teeth then end up at an angle.

Some of the problems that people experience with wisdom teeth include occasions when part of, but not the whole, wisdom tooth has appeared. This cause ‘pericoronitis’, a condition where the gum is sore and may be swollen. Sometimes food particles or bacteria can get caught under the gum, and it can be very difficult to clean. Mouthwashes, specialist cleaning methods, and sometimes medication can be called upon to fix this problem.

If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort due to a wisdom tooth, there are a few other steps you can try:

  • Create a mouthwash using a teaspoonful of salt, and medium-hot water. Swishing this around a tooth can help to reduce soreness in your gum, or inflammation. Make sure you check the water is not too hot before you start.
  • Anti-bacterial mouthwashes, that contain chlorhexidine, may also help with inflammation.
  • Paracetamol and ibuprofen may also help with pain – just be careful to swallow the tablet as normal (don’t just place it on the affected area).
  • If the pain isn’t going away, or you’re finding it difficult to manage, visit your dentist: you may need additional advice or support.

Sometimes wisdom teeth cause ongoing problems and do need to be removed. If this is the case, then your dentist will speak with you about your options, and what this removal will be like. They will provide you with information about steps you’ll need to take in preparation, and about how to recover from the tooth removal.

We hope that today’s article has helped to give you a little more information about wisdom teeth, what to expect, and why problems may sometimes arise. Speak to your dentist today if you’re at all worried about your wisdom teeth or are finding it difficult to manage any pain or discomfort.

For more information, see the Oral Health Foundation website: https://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/sundry/wisdom-teeth

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