You might need wisdom teeth removal if your wisdom teeth cause pain, grow in crooked or result in other oral health issues. Sometimes dentists recommend removing wisdom teeth preventively, before issues have a chance to develop. This common oral surgery procedure takes about an hour to complete. Full recovery takes about two weeks.
Wisdom tooth removal — or wisdom tooth extraction — is a common oral surgery procedure. Dentists may recommend this treatment to preserve your oral health and protect your other teeth from possible issues in the future.
Scientists believe wisdom teeth are vestigial structures (parts of the human body that are no longer necessary). Our ancestors needed these teeth to crush and chew raw leaves, nuts, roots and meat. Today, we eat more cooked food and use forks and knives to cut our food up into smaller pieces. As a result, we don’t really need wisdom teeth anymore.
Some people have all four wisdom teeth (one in each quadrant — the upper left, lower left, upper right and lower right). Others may have one, two, three or none at all. No matter how many wisdom teeth you do (or don’t) have, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. It’s just a variation of normal and a sign of the ever-changing evolutionary process.
You might need wisdom teeth removed if you:
In many cases, dentists recommend wisdom teeth extraction as a preventive measure. As a result, your dentist may suggest removing your wisdom teeth even if you don’t have any symptoms. This can help reduce your risk for future problems, including infection and tooth decay.
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During a consultation with an oral surgeon, they’ll check the health of your wisdom teeth and take dental X-rays to determine their exact location. This is a good time to tell your surgeon about any medications, vitamins or supplements you’re currently taking.
Your surgeon will also discuss sedation dentistry options with you during this appointment. Depending on your needs and preferences, they may recommend local anesthesia, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), IV (intravenous, or through your vein) sedation or general anesthesia.
If you choose IV sedation or general anesthesia, your surgeon will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare for your appointment. This may include fasting after midnight the night before your surgery and stopping certain medications a few days prior. (Don’t stop taking medication before discussing it with your surgeon.)
The day of your procedure, your surgeon will:
Wisdom tooth extraction usually takes an hour or less. Complex cases may take longer.
After wisdom teeth removal, you can expect mild discomfort, slight bleeding and swelling. Your oral surgeon will give you instructions for wisdom teeth management to ease these side effects. Once your sedation wears off enough, a trusted friend or family member will drive you home.
Your surgeon will give you postoperative guidelines specific for your situation. Following these instructions will help you manage bleeding, swelling and pain after your procedure.
In the meantime, here are some general “dos and don’ts” after wisdom teeth removal:
Wisdom tooth removal can reduce your risk for future oral health problems, like:
If you’ve already developed pain because of your wisdom teeth, then extraction can often ease discomfort almost immediately and get you back on track to better oral health.
Wisdom teeth removal usually doesn’t result in long-term complications. In rare instances, people may develop:
Wisdom teeth removal recovery time takes one to two weeks on average. But most people can resume school, work and other routines in about three to five days. Your surgeon will give you detailed postoperative instructions to help keep you comfortable while you heal.
Postoperative pain varies from person to person. But many people have more pain and swelling on the third or fourth day. In general, once pain and swelling peaks, you should notice a steady decrease in these side effects.
If pain, bleeding or swelling gets worse again after four days, tell your surgeon. It might mean you have an infection. They can give you antibiotics to help.
You can eat as soon as you leave your appointment, as long as you’re feeling up to it. Stick to a soft food diet for the first three to five days, then add more solid foods as your comfort level allows.
If you get a milkshake or smoothie, use a spoon instead of a straw. Drinking through a straw can dislodge blood clots and cause dry sockets.
In general, eat a soft food diet for the first three to five days. Avoid hard, crunchy or chewy foods, as these can cause pain and interfere with healing.
Your surgeon will give you a list of things you can eat after wisdom tooth extraction. Some of these foods include:
You’ll need to rest at home for three to five days after wisdom tooth removal. Most people can resume work, school and other routines at this point.
If you have a job that requires physical labor, you may need to take a few extra days off. Anything that raises your heart rate can increase postoperative pain, bleeding and swelling.
Call your dentist or oral surgeon if you develop:
Dentists recommend preventive wisdom teeth removal in many cases. But not everyone needs their wisdom teeth extracted. Some people have healthy wisdom teeth that grow in normally and don’t cause any issues. Others have impacted wisdom teeth that increase their risk for decay, gum disease and other oral health consequences.
The best way to find out if you need wisdom tooth removal is to talk to your dentist. They can take X-rays to determine the position of your wisdom teeth and tell you whether you need treatment.
As long as you’re old enough to have wisdom teeth, you’re old enough for wisdom teeth extraction. There’s also no upper age limit. Many dentists recommend wisdom teeth removal in your late teens or early 20s. At this age, your wisdom teeth are still developing, so they may be easier to extract.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Wisdom teeth removal is a rite of passage for many teens and young adults. Dentists often recommend it preventively to avoid future oral health issues like decay and gum disease. While wisdom teeth extraction probably isn’t number one on your bucket list, it can save you a lot of time, worry and money in the future — especially if your wisdom teeth have a negative impact on your oral health. If you’re wondering whether you need wisdom teeth removal, talk to your dentist. They can help you make a decision that’s right for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/22/2023.
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