Wisdom teeth are the third and final molars to erupt in your mouth. Unlike other teeth that usually appear during childhood, wisdom teeth don’t typically surface until you reach your late teens or early adulthood. As a result, the teeth are coined “wisdom teeth” because they don’t tend to present until you have matured or become wiser.

What is the function of a wisdom tooth?

A wisdom tooth, like your other molars, helps to grind the food you consume. However, wisdom teeth are not generally necessary because of their placement in the very back of the mouth. It is this placement that often leads to problems with the teeth.

What types of problems are associated with wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are associated with multiple dental health problems, such as the following:

  • Increased Decay– Because wisdom teeth are located in the back of the mouth, it can be difficult to clean them properly. As a result, the teeth are more likely to decay. Since decay can be transferred to other teeth, wisdom teeth can have a negative impact on the health of neighboring molars.
  • Misalignment– Wisdom teeth don’t always grow or erupt in a straight pattern. In some cases, the teeth may even grow in sideways. This can cause the wisdom teeth to place pressure on adjacent teeth, forcing them out of proper alignment. To confirm the positioning of a wisdom tooth that has not erupted, a dental x-ray may be needed.
  • Gum Inflammation– Wisdom teeth do not always fully erupt. In some cases, only a portion of a wisdom tooth breaks the surface of the gums. As a result, a pocket of gum tissue still covers a portion of the tooth. This pocket can become a hiding place for residual particles of food and oral bacteria. The resulting plaque can irritate the gum tissue causing swelling and discomfort. If the pocket of gums is not kept clean, the gum inflammation is unlikely to resolve on its own. Instead, the dentist may have to clear the debris from the pocket, remove the overhanging gum tissue or extract the wisdom tooth.

How are wisdom teeth usually treated?

When a problem surfaces from a wisdom tooth, your dentist may prescribe an extraction. The type of extraction– simple or surgical– will depend on the position of the wisdom tooth.

  • Simple– If the crown of the wisdom tooth is fully visible above the surface of the gums, a simple extraction may be suitable. The tooth can simply be pulled from its socket.
  • Surgical– If the wisdom tooth is only partially erupted or has not emerged from the gums at all, a surgical extraction is necessary. Surgical extractions are usually more complicated than simple extractions and often require the cutting of gum tissue.

How can you clean a wisdom tooth properly?

Since you may find it difficult to navigate the standard head of a toothbrush in the very back of your mouth, cleaning a wisdom tooth properly is not easy. It can be especially cumbersome if you have a small oral cavity.


To make cleaning these back teeth easier, consider using a toothbrush with a small, compact head. Also, an oral irrigator may be helpful. The irrigator directs a stream of water to dislodge trapped food and debris from around the teeth. This can be particularly effective for cleaning around partially erupted teeth.

Is the recovery from a wisdom tooth extraction difficult?

If your dentist does recommend the removal of one or more of your wisdom teeth, the recovery from the procedure is generally the same as it is for other dental extractions. Your extraction site will likely be healed within about two weeks following your extraction.

Immediately after your surgery, you may be given surgical gauze to bite down on gently to reduce bleeding. Around 24 hours after your procedure, you can begin cleansing your mouth by gently rinsing with a saltwater solution. Strenuous activities should be avoided for the first three or four days after the extraction, so you will likely need to take a few days off from work if you have a wisdom tooth removal scheduled. Nevertheless, your healing process should not be excessively painful or complicated as long as you adhere to your post-surgical instructions.

To confirm the positioning of your wisdom teeth and to determine whether or not an extraction is needed, contact our office to schedule an appointment.