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Wisdom tooth removal

The removal of wisdom teeth, or third molars, is one of the most common procedures carried out in the UK.

The removal of wisdom teeth, or third molars, is one of the most common procedures carried out in the UK.

The wisdom teeth grow at the back of your gums and are the last teeth to come through. Most people have four wisdom teeth, one in each corner.

Wisdom teeth usually grow through the gums during the late teens or early twenties. By this time, the other 28 adult teeth are usually in place so there isn't always enough room in the mouth for the wisdom teeth to grow properly.

Because of the lack of space, the wisdom teeth can sometimes emerge at an angle or get stuck and only emerge partially. Wisdom teeth that grow through in this way are known as impacted.

Why are wisdom teeth removed?

Wisdom teeth that have become impacted or haven't fully broken through the surface of the gum can cause dental problems.

Food and bacteria can get trapped around the edge of the wisdom teeth, causing a build-up of plaque, which can lead to tooth decay, gum disease or other problems.

Your wisdom teeth don't usually need to be removed if they are impacted but they are not causing any problems. This is because there is no proven benefit of doing this and it carries the risk of complications.

Read more about why a wisdom tooth might need to be removed.

When to see a dentist

You should make an appointment to see your dentist if you're experiencing severe pain or discomfort from your wisdom teeth. Your dentist will check your teeth and advise you about whether they need to be removed.

As with any teeth problems, it's important to see your dentist as soon as possible rather than waiting for your regular dental check-up.

How wisdom teeth are removed

Your dentist may remove your wisdom teeth or they may refer you to a specialist surgeon for treatment in hospital.

Before the procedure, you will usually be given a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area around the tooth. You'll feel some pressure just before the tooth is removed, as your dentist or oral surgeon needs to widen the tooth socket by rocking the tooth back and forth.

In some cases a cut (incision) may be needed in your gum and the tooth may need to be cut into smaller pieces before it is removed.

The time it takes to remove the tooth will vary. Some procedures only take a few minutes, whereas others can take 20 minutes or longer. 

After your wisdom teeth have been removed, you may experience swelling and discomfort, both on the inside and outside of your mouth. This is usually worse for the first three days, but it can last for up to two weeks.

Read more about how a wisdom tooth is removed and recovering from wisdom tooth removal.

Possible complications

As with all surgery, there are risks associated with removing a wisdom tooth. These include problems such as infection or delayed healing, both of which are more likely to occur if you smoke during your recovery.

Another possible complication is "dry socket", which is a dull, aching sensation in your gum or jaw, and sometimes a bad smell or taste coming from the empty tooth socket. Dry socket is more likely to occur if you don't follow the after-care instructions given by your dentist.

There is also a small risk of nerve damage, which can cause problems such as pain or a tingling sensation and numbness in the tongue, lower lip, chin, teeth and gums. This is usually temporary, but it can be permanent in some cases.

Read more about the possible complications of wisdom tooth removal.

Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Wisdom tooth removal

It can take up to two weeks to fully recover after having your wisdom teeth removed.

It can take up to two weeks to fully recover after having your wisdom teeth removed.

During this time, you may experience:

  • swelling (inflammation) of your mouth and cheeks – this will be worse for the first few days, but will gradually improve; gently pressing a cold cloth to your face will help reduce the swelling
  • a stiff, sore jaw – this should wear off within 7 to 10 days; the skin around your jaw may also be bruised for up to two weeks
  • pain – this is worse if the extraction was complicated
  • an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • tingling or numbness of your face, lips or tongue (although this is uncommon)

You should report any excess bleeding, severe pain or any other unusual symptoms to your dentist or oral surgeon immediately.

Self-care advice

To reduce pain and aid your recovery, it can be helpful to:

  • use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (always read and follow the manufacturer's dosage instructions)
  • avoid strenuous activity and exercise for a few days
  • use an extra pillow to support your head at night
  • for 24 hours, avoid rinsing, spitting, hot drinks or anything else that may dislodge the blood clots that form in the empty tooth socket, as they help the healing process
  • avoid drinking alcohol and smoking 
  • eat soft or liquid food for a few days and chew with your other teeth
  • gently rinse the extraction site with antiseptic mouthwash after 24 hours, and repeat this regularly over the next few days

Working and driving

It's usually recommended that you take a day or two off work after having a wisdom tooth removed.

You can drive immediately after the procedure if local anaesthetic was used, but you should avoid driving for at least 24 hours if a sedative was used, or 48 hours if the procedure was carried out under general anaesthetic.

Returning to normal

After your wisdom teeth have been removed and any swelling and bruising has disappeared, your mouth and face should return to normal.

You will usually be able to brush your teeth normally after a few days. Make sure that you finish any course of antibiotics that you've been given.

A check-up appointment may be arranged for about a week or so after the procedure. At this point, any remaining stitches may be removed.

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