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Wisdom Tooth Problems - Topic Overview

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What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the upper and lower third molars, located at the very back of the mouth. They are called wisdom teeth camera.gif because usually they come in between ages 17 and 21—when a person is old enough to have gained some wisdom.

What causes problems with wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth that are healthy and in the right position usually don't cause problems. You may have a problem if any of the following occur:

  • Your wisdom teeth break through your gums only partway because of a lack of space. This can cause a flap of gum tissue to grow over them. The flap can trap food and lead to a gum infection.
  • They come in crooked or facing the wrong direction.
  • Your jaw isn't large enough to give them room. Your wisdom teeth may get stuck (impacted) in your jaw and not be able to break through your gums.
  • They are so far back in your mouth or crowded that you have trouble cleaning around them.

What are the symptoms?

If your wisdom teeth are causing problems, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Pain or jaw stiffness near an impacted tooth.
  • Pain or irritation from a tooth coming in at an awkward angle and rubbing against your cheek, tongue, or top or bottom of your mouth.
  • An infected swelling in the flap of gum tissue that has formed on top of an impacted tooth that has broken partway through the gum.
  • Crowding of other teeth.
  • Tooth decay or gum disease if there isn't enough room to properly clean your wisdom tooth and nearby teeth.

Most problems with wisdom teeth affect people between the ages of 15 and 25. People older than 30 usually don't have problems that require their wisdom teeth to be removed.

How are problems with wisdom teeth diagnosed?

Your dentist will check for signs of a wisdom tooth coming through your gum or crowding other teeth. You will have X-rays camera.gif to find out if your wisdom teeth are causing problems now or are likely to cause problems in the future.

How are they treated?

Wisdom teeth that cause problems should be removed, or extracted. This can be done by a dentist or an oral surgeon.

The dentist or surgeon will open the gum tissue over the tooth if needed and remove the tooth. Sometimes a tooth will be cut into smaller pieces to make it easier to take out. After the tooth is removed, you may need stitches.

If you have an infection, you may need to wait until it is gone before you have your wisdom teeth removed. The dentist or surgeon may prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the infection.

While you wait to have the teeth removed, you can take steps to reduce pain and swelling.

  • Put an ice pack on your cheek for 20 minutes at a time. Do not use heat.
  • Rinse your mouth gently with warm salt water every 2 to 3 hours. To make your own salt water, mix 1 tsp (5 g) of salt in a cup [8 fl oz (240 mL)] of warm water.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Carefully read and follow the directions. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious disease.

Don't put an aspirin directly on your gums. Aspirin used in this way can damage your gums.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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