1. Why are they called Wisdom Teeth?
The last teeth to develop and erupt into the jaws are called the
third molars. Third molars usually erupt in the late teen years,
which coincides with passage into adulthood and is referred to by
some as the age of wisdom; hence "wisdom teeth". Unfortunately, the
wisdom teeth are now usually trying to erupt into a jaw that is too
Wisdom teeth used to serve a useful purpose, but are now
considered vestigial organs. A vestige is a degenerative or
imperfectly formed organ or structure having little or no utility,
but in the earlier stage of development of a species performed a
useful function. The reasons that wisdom teeth are now "outdated"
are many. Until quite recently, our diet included mostly very coarse
food, as well as impurities such as dirt and sand. This coarseness
would abrade teeth so significantly that they would take up less
space in the jaw. Permanent teeth were also frequently lost at an
early age, which would create more space in the jaw. Because the
diet was so coarse and hard to chew, the jaw itself would develop
into a larger bone because of this constant workout. All of these
factors would create more space for the wisdom teeth when they came
The heavily processed diet of today does not produce the tooth
abrasion or jaw development that we used to see. Modern dentistry
has pretty much eliminated significant loss of permanent teeth at an
early age. This leaves us with too many teeth and not enough jaw.
The wisdom teeth still develop as they always have, but they have no
where to go. When this happens, the teeth are considered "impacted,"
meaning that they are not in normal position and function.
Besides serving no useful function, the impacted teeth will often
cause damage because they cannot be cleaned properly and can collect
food debris, bacteria and plaque around them. This can result in
tooth decay, gum disease, infection and abscess of not only the
wisdom teeth, but of the molars next door and of the surrounding gum
tissue. The molars in front of the wisdom teeth are sometimes lost
because of cavities and gum disease caused by the inability to clean
the wisdom teeth properly. Cyst formation and other destructive
pathology are also seen around impacted wisdom teeth.
If removal of the wisdom teeth is indicated, the procedure is
recommended in the late teenage years, before the roots are
completely formed. Surgical procedures in general are better
tolerated when one is young and healthy, and the gum tissues tend to
heal better and more predictably when young. Most people experience
minimal disruption of their normal routines, and time off from work
or school is usually minimal.
When indicated, the removal of wisdom teeth can be of great
benefit to your ultimate oral and general health.
2. How do you keep my mouth open during surgery when I’m asleep?
A small rubber cushion is placed between your teeth before you go
to sleep, and this holds your mouth open.
3. What is a " dry socket "?
Dry socket is a term that refers to a healing complication that
used to be seen somewhat frequently, but is rarely a problem today.
With current techniques we have all but eliminated "dry sockets",
although we encourage you to call us if you experience anything
postoperatively that is not improving day by day or just doesn’t
4. When can I go back to work or school?
Every individual has a different healing response to surgery, but
on average there is not much disruption of one’s activities, and
generally not for more than a few days. We frequently see people
back at work or school on the day following surgery, even when all
four wisdom teeth have been removed.
5. When can I brush my teeth after surgery?
Teeth can be brushed immediately, being careful to avoid the
surgical areas for the first day or so.
6. When will my stitches dissolve?
Unless you are told otherwise, your stitches will dissolve after
about a week.
7. When can I take the gauze out that I was biting on when I left
The gauze may be removed when you get home; to be replaced with
new gauze if significant bleeding continues, or if it feels better
to have gauze in place. If the bleeding is not tapering off within a
few hours of surgery, you should call our office. A small amount of
blood on your pillow on the night following surgery is nothing to be
alarmed about of there is no active bleeding.
8. When should I start the prescription mouth rinse?
The prescription mouth rinse should be used for the first time
before you go to bed on the night following surgery. Rinse very
gently, because your blood clots are still somewhat fragile.
9. If I’m a smoker, how long should I wait to smoke after
Smoking is harmful to the healing process and makes numerous
complications more likely. Smoking in the first two weeks is