Teeth are perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of our bodies—that is until problems arise with our teeth. Among those problems is the eruption of wisdom teeth, which in many cases results in the need for surgical removal.
Over time, humans have less and less need for wisdom teeth. We can bite and chew our food without those extra back teeth, which often get in the way and may even become painful.
Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that grow in people between the ages of 17 and 21 at the back of the mouth. Most already possess a full mouth of adult teeth by that time. This causes many people’s wisdom teeth to grow in an impacted environment, meaning one that does not have space for them to grow correctly.
Impacted wisdom teeth are a common issue and nothing to worry about. In fact, the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons finds that nine out of every ten patients have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. It may feel fine now, but it can cause issues later.
It is best to talk with a dental professional to consider options before committing to surgery. Knowledge is power in situations like these. Dentists have the ability and expertise to give patients the resources they need to make an informed choice.
That said, try to catch and report a potentially impacted wisdom tooth early. As wisdom teeth grow and develop, the risk to one’s oral health grows. There’s a window where extraction is potentially easier than if one waits.
When they begin to erupt, untreated impacted wisdom teeth push through and cause pain. They can also lead to many other problems, such as infections, cleaning issues, decay, and more. Anyone experiencing such symptoms is encouraged to discuss them with their dental professional and seek the appropriate treatment.
The most common yet least pleasant of symptoms, pain occurs in nearly all impacted wisdom tooth situations. When teeth grow waywardly, they tend to touch places they otherwise would not touch, including neighboring teeth and their roots.
Pain symptoms aren’t limited to the tooth, either. The gums around the tooth may start to hurt. The pain could even be felt as far as the jaw.
No two people’s experiences are going to be exactly alike. One person may experience a dull throb, the other, something sharper. Treating these issues with pain medications would do a disservice to your body when there are deeper causes to address.
The onset of pain will also differ from patient to patient. In any case, whenever there is pain, it follows that there is something wrong. When it comes to wisdom teeth, that often means an infection.
Cleaning Issues and Increased Risk of Infections
Even before one notices a problem, there may be issues lurking in one’s mouth. Our oral cavities house over 700 kinds of bacteria, according to the National Institutes of Health. Wisdom teeth face exposure to those bacteria the second they erupt.
Wisdom teeth, due to their positioning, are harder to clean than other teeth. Reaching every area with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss is much more difficult. This is especially true for partially erupted wisdom teeth.
Food can also get stuck between crowded teeth. This complicates the difficulty of brushing even further, as such areas are often difficult to reach, let alone see clearly.
When food gets trapped against a wisdom tooth, it gets hidden in small spaces between teeth and gums called “pseudo pockets.” Bacteria from the trapped food and your mouth could be enough to cause an infection or a cavity.
If not kept clean, wisdom teeth may develop any number of infections. Each will usually affect more than just one tooth.
Two specific types of infection to be aware of are pericoronitis and periodontitis.
Pericoronitis is an inflammation of the gums around a partially erupted tooth, hence its common association with wisdom teeth. It usually occurs in and around the little “flap” of tissue over the tooth.
Pericoronitis has many causes but usually stems from the general environment in which the tooth grows or bacteria from food stuck between the tooth and the gums.
Bad breath is a typical symptom of pericoronitis. It can also be painful or cause swelling in parts of the face. When pericoronitis is advanced enough, many people will experience difficulty biting, chewing, or closing their mouths.
Pericoronitis can also cause fevers, difficulty swallowing, and a loss of appetite. Again, no two people’s symptoms are going to be exactly alike.
Professional treatment is needed to clear away the infection and ensure it doesn’t return with a vengeance. Proper cleaning and possibly medication will go a long way on the road to better oral health. In most cases, the infected tooth will need removal to prevent future infection.
A related type of infection is known as periodontitis, more commonly called gum disease. This condition is often a hygiene issue that occurs when bacteria get into the space between the gums and the tooth. If left untreated, it can lead to loss of that tooth and even surrounding ones.
Although periodontitis forms on a fully-realized tooth, it is still something to be vigilant about with growing wisdom teeth. Paramount to avoiding any and all kinds of gum disease is proper cleaning of teeth.
These infections may not be limited to a problem with the tooth. Infections can spread throughout the body. If that happens, one could face serious medical complications.
One should call a doctor if experiencing severe tooth or gum pain before it turns into a bigger problem.
As previously noted, all kinds of infections can develop if a wisdom tooth is left untreated for an extended period. These infections may affect several other areas of the body as well. Each has its symptoms and consequences.
Pain is the main one, especially in the jaw or mouth, along with swelling. Additionally, serious infections can get into the bloodstream or compromise the immune system.
There are different stages to tooth-related problems, whether it’s decay or a cyst. Therefore, removing one’s wisdom teeth is a way of protecting one’s quality of life. No one wants to experience pain, infection, or disease.
Increased Risk of Tooth Decay and Cysts
When teeth don’t get the cleaning they need, whether due to improper brushing or an unseen bacterial infection, they may enter the stage of tooth decay.
Decay occurs when bacteria break down a tooth, layer by layer. Eventually, this can create a pocket, or abscess, in the tooth.
A cavity is often the result of a tooth infection. If it is not brushed or flossed, the tooth may start to develop further pinhole cavities. This lets more bacteria in, increasing the risk of bigger health problems down the line.
Another possible result of tooth decay is a complete loss of the tooth in question. If not caught early and treated, the decay continues to eat away at the tooth until the tooth cannot hold on to its roots anymore and falls out.
As with other infections, the damage may spread beyond the tooth, even outside the mouth, if not properly addressed.
Tooth decay usually manifests as a throbbing jaw, sensitivity, or bad breath. If severe enough, it can affect the sinuses. High fever is also a possibility.
Cysts happen when fluid forms in a sac around an erupting tooth. These sacs are often benign but can sometimes push against neighboring teeth, bones, and gums, causing serious health issues.
Damage to Nearby Teeth
Wisdom teeth come in when one already has his or her 28 adult teeth, which can lead to issues of overcrowding.
Someone may have a healthy mouth and a Hollywood smile. Their luck doesn’t exempt them, however, from experiencing issues with impacted wisdom teeth. We have no control over the ways in which our teeth will grow and develop.
Wisdom teeth grow at all different angles. Some grow straight and cause no issues to other teeth. Much of the time, however, they grow incongruously at an angle or even fully sideways.
Wisdom teeth that grow crookedly can cause multiple types of damage to one’s mouth, especially when they push out into the roots of neighboring healthy teeth. If this happens, you are now looking at addressing both teeth.
Imperfect wisdom teeth potentially cause orthodontic problems. The new teeth push and slide existing teeth out of alignment. Depending on the severity, misalignment should be something for which one seeks treatment.
Apart from improper contact, there are other ways impacted wisdom teeth cause damage to neighboring teeth, especially regarding the spread of harmful bacteria that can lead to painful and, in some cases, health-threatening infections. Most such infections develop and transmit without announcement.
Proper care of teeth becomes essential here. Infections must be prevented and improper alignment of teeth minimized to maintain good oral health. An unhealthy wisdom tooth is capable of more damage than it might seem. Vigilance is key.
BONUS: Post-Surgery Care
You’ve had your wisdom teeth extracted. You come out of your haze, and you’re on the road to recovery. What’s next?
Patients need to do a few things to make sure their mouth heals correctly and quickly.
Risk during wisdom tooth extraction is minimal but never absent entirely. Your mouth is composed of bones and sensitive tissue. There are also some post-op procedures of which one needs to be aware.
After tooth removal, typically the blood will begin to clot. The clotting process protects the remaining nerves and leftover bone, an important kickstart to the body’s healing process.
Sometimes, the clots get dislodged, leading to the formation of a “dry socket.” According to Mayo Clinic, dry sockets are the most common complication following wisdom tooth extraction. The condition exposes the nerves or bone to bacteria and is often painful.
The pain can gradually grow worse until it’s felt in other places of the face. Until they heal, dry sockets also manifest in the form of a bad taste in the mouth.
Follow the post-op treatment given to you by your dentist to help prevent dry sockets. The regimen includes refraining from strenuous exercise and smoking. Do not drink from a straw until the area is healed, make sure to eat soft foods and take certain medications as needed. Dentists can also treat the removal site with more direct methods.
The Importance of Wisdom Tooth Care
Not everyone needs to have a wisdom tooth extraction, but it is an important consideration. If one or more wisdom teeth become impacted, health issues maybe not too far behind. These issues range from pain to infection and decay.
Some people don’t need extraction. Those with larger mouths may have space for the teeth to grow without issue. They might emerge perfectly straight and (if taken care of well) healthy. It’s always important to brush and floss regularly.
Don’t wait on this; talk with a dental professional about steps in wisdom tooth care early in the process. Choosing to endure the pain will only exacerbate the problem and lead to further complications that could strain both your body and your wallet.
If possible, get a recommendation before the teeth have even begun to erupt. Recovery is often easier when a person is younger, or if the teeth haven’t pushed through just yet. Preventative steps and treatment help tremendously in keeping a person healthy.
If you are experiencing symptoms and want advice on diagnosis or treatment, contact us at Klement Family Dental. We are open six days a week at both locations in St. Petersburg for convenient appointment times. Our team of dentists and hygienists will make sure you get the right treatment plan for you.