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Many centuries ago, the human diet differed greatly to that of today. Not only did we chew more uncooked meat, but we ate more unrefined plant tissue, which wisdom teeth, a set of molars at the back of our jaw, would grind up.

When farming developed, so did our food preparation. We were able to store and process food in new ways, making it softer and easier to consume. With softer food, we chewed more with our front teeth, which led to our wisdom teeth being rendered somewhat redundant.

The size of human jaws gradually grew smaller. There was less room in the mouth for wisdom teeth, but genetics meant they stuck around, and most of us still develop these four teeth in the rear of our jaws.

Why are they called wisdom teeth?

Our wisdom teeth appear far later than the rest of our teeth, usually in our late teens and early twenties, although they can erupt later. Hence, because we are older and ‘wiser’, we term them ‘wisdom’ teeth.

Why keep them if we don’t use them?

Generally, after wisdom teeth erupt, we leave them as is. After all, it doesn’t harm us to have an extra set of chompers in the jaw. However, when complications arise after the growth of wisdom teeth, your dentist may deem it best for you to have them extracted.

Problems caused by wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth may need to be removed if they grow at an odd angle, or press up too closely to existing teeth.

When the wisdom tooth presses against other teeth, it can send other teeth forward in the mouth and make them crooked. This is why, for people considering braces, it may be recommended to have wisdom teeth removed first so that any progress in aligning other teeth is not reversed by the pressure of the wisdom teeth.

Wisdom teeth compacting against adjacent teeth can cause other problems too. When teeth are compacted, it’s harder to clean between the gaps. This can lead to tooth decay and gum infections, which can result in pain and swelling.

Wisdom teeth removal

Having your wisdom teeth removed is a little more involved than a standard tooth extraction. Depending on the complexity of removal, your dentist may even need to place you under general anaesthetic or sleep dentistry.

Usually, the upper wisdom teeth are easier to extract and heal faster. But if you are having all wisdom teeth removed, it’s helpful to do a little planning.

Preparation

  • It’s recommended you plan at least two days leave from work or study for initial healing. (You may wish to plan the surgery on a Thursday or Friday, so you can have the weekend to recover.) Full recovery takes longer than 48 hours, but you should be able to return to work.
  • If you are having a general anaesthetic or sleep dentistry, you won’t be able to drive for 48 hours post-surgery. Therefore, ensure you arrange alternative transport during this time.

What to expect after wisdom teeth surgery

  • Blood clots form in the extraction site in the first 24 hours. These are important in protecting the wound and should be left alone.
  • Your jaw will most likely swell up and you may see some external bruising.
  • You’ll probably have some discomfort. Talk to your dentist or pharmacist about the most appropriate pain relievers.
  • Your wounds may require stitches, in which case, you’ll need to return to the dentist after approximately one to three weeks to have them removed.
  • After a week, the discomfort and stiffness in your jaw should feel much better, and after two weeks, bruising should have disappeared.
  • For the next four to six weeks, you’ll need to maintain good dental hygiene to prevent infection in the healing wound (although good dental hygiene should be a permanent fixture).
  • If there are any signs of infection, see your dentist as soon as possible. You may be prescribed antibiotics.

Tips for optimum healing

The first 24-48 hours

  • Don’t brush your teeth near the extraction site, or chew gum. You’ll probably notice that your breath won’t be pleasant as your wound heals. Thank goodness you took those days off work!
  • Avoid hot drinks, rinsing the mouth, using a straw, smoking, or drinking alcohol for at least 24 hours.
  • Don’t drive for at least 48 hours if you’ve had a general anaesthetic.

After 24 hours

  • You can rinse your mouth with warm salty water, or an antiseptic mouth rinse recommended by your dentist.
  • If you have swelling, use an ice pack on your face/jaw.
  • Prop your head up in bed a little to relieve pressure on your face and jaw while you sleep.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise such as heavy lifting, and if you’re a keen sax player, you’ll need to put your instrument down for at least a week.

What you can eat

For the first two days after surgery, try to stick to an almost liquid diet. This means you’re free to eat ice cream, yoghurt, smoothies, and soups (make sure they aren’t hot).

After 48 hours, you can eat other soft foods like jelly, mashed vegetables or fruit, soft pasta/noodles, and scrambled eggs.

Avoid eating anything hot in temperature, spicy, sticky (lollies) or sharp (potato chips, nuts, seeds, crusty bread).

Cost of removal

The cost of having a wisdom tooth removed can vary according to the complexity of the removal. If the tooth can safely be extracted in the dentist chair, it may cost only a few hundred dollars. The price climbs if a general anaesthetic or sleep dentistry is required.

If the procedure is covered by your private health plan, costs are further reduced.

If a wisdom tooth extraction is clinically required, we at Beachside Dental will run you through associated costs so you are well informed before proceeding.

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