Originally published June 2019. Updated July 2022.
Having your wisdom tooth removed is a very common dental procedure. In fact, 5 million Americans get their wisdom teeth removed every year!
Even though most of us will need our wisdom teeth removed in our lifetime, it can feel like an intimidating surgery to go through because many of us know relatively little about it. Why do we have wisdom teeth in the first place? How do you know if your wisdom teeth should be removed? And exactly how much does it cost to remove those wisdom teeth?
To help clear things up, here is everything you need to know and what to expect about wisdom teeth removal—before, during, and after the dental procedure.
Not sure if you’re covered for wisdom teeth removal? No problem! With MySmile®, understanding your benefits is as easy as 1-2-3.
What Are Wisdom Teeth and Why Do We Have Them?
Wisdom teeth are a third set of molars in the back corners of your mouth. Most adults typically have 4 wisdom teeth, which grow in between the ages of 17 and 24. They’re the last permanent teeth to appear in the mouth–although some people never grow them at all!
Known medically as third molars, wisdom teeth have different names around the world.In Turkey, you can expect to get your yas disi, or “twentieth-year teeth.” In Korea, sa-rang-nee refer to “love teeth.” But Thailand hits the nail on the head with fan-khut, literally meaning “huddling tooth” to refer to the huddled lack of space available in our modern mouths for this final set of teeth.
Which brings us to the question many people have: If there isn't enough space in our mouths to accommodate them, why do we have wisdom teeth at all?
Most anthropologists think wisdom teeth were necessary for our caveman ancestors, who lived on a diet of raw roots, leaves, meat, and nuts. Since then, however, we've evolved to cook our food and use utensils to cut it into manageable pieces–and our jaws don't need to work as hard.
When our modern diets evolved, our jaws shrunk in size. But for many of us, our wisdom teeth never got the memo. Today, most of our mouths no longer have room to comfortably fit our wisdom teeth, even though most people still develop them. Because of the limited space, many people end up needing oral surgery to remove wisdom teeth–otherwise known as wisdom teeth extraction.
How Do You Know If Your Wisdom Teeth Should Be Removed?
Wisdom teeth don’t always cause pain and problems when coming in; for some people, their wisdom teeth erupt without issue, coming in straight without pushing on other teeth in the mouth. In many cases, however, wisdom teeth simply don’t have enough room to come in normally, if at all.
There are several reasons why you may need your wisdom teeth removed, including:
- If you have a tooth impaction, where the tooth never breaks through the gum, or only partially erupts.
- If they come in at a wrong angle, and press against your other teeth.
- Your jaw doesn’t have enough room for an extra set of molars.
Whatever the reason, your wisdom teeth can result in a wide variety of oral health problems, including:
- Wisdom tooth pain.
- Trapped food leading to decay.
- Damage to nearby teeth or the surrounding jawbone.
- Bacterial growth along the opening of the gum line from a partially impacted tooth.
- Development of a cyst around the wisdom teeth.
- Difficulty flossing and brushing.
- Complications or interference with other orthodontic appliances or procedures.
When wisdom teeth cause pain or damage, wisdom teeth extraction is usually recommended. But only your dentist can tell for sure whether your wisdom teeth should be removed, so it is important to schedule regular oral health exams and be aware of the following symptoms.
Symptoms of an impacted wisdom tooth include:
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Jaw pain
- Swelling around the jaw
- Difficulty opening your mouth
What Happens During Wisdom Tooth Removal?
Depending on the complexity, wisdom teeth extraction is performed either by a dentist or an oral surgeon. It’s usually an outpatient dental procedure and typically takes less than an hour. The procedure involves removing any bone blocking access to the root, followed by the tooth extraction itself. Stitches are sometimes necessary, but not always.
Some dentists recommend wisdom tooth extraction even if they don’t fully erupt. Many also recommend removing wisdom teeth at a younger age, before the bone and roots are fully formed, for a speedier recovery. Waiting until later is more difficult and increases the risk of complications, like injury to your nerves and sinuses.
Does wisdom teeth extraction hurt?
The surgery itself shouldn't hurt because you will get either local or general anesthesia. It is in the days following surgery that most people experience pain. The amount of discomfort depends on the extent of the surgery, whether you use pain medication, and of course, your own pain threshold. But most people experience some level of discomfort for three or more days. Pain and tenderness typically resolves within one week.
How much does it cost to have wisdom teeth removed?
Wisdom tooth extraction costs vary, but a simple removal is usually in the range of $75-$200 per tooth. Impacted wisdom teeth cost between $225-$600 per tooth.
What Is Wisdom Teeth Removal Recovery Like?
After surgery, you may feel groggy or disoriented from the anesthesia. Make sure someone is available to drive you home from your wisdom teeth surgery, or if not, arrange for a cab. You will be in no shape to drive. After that, plan for between 3-7 days of TLC while you recover.
Wisdom teeth swelling and pain lasts anywhere between 3-4 days and up to a full week. Ice packs help minimize swelling, and your doctor may give you medications to manage pain. Expect some bleeding after wisdom tooth extraction. Your dentist will give you gauze to bite on to help control the blood.
What to eat after having wisdom teeth removed
After surgery, choose foods that are nourishing but comfortable to eat. Many people prefer soft foods for the first few days, although this depends on your own comfort level and any specific instructions from your dentist.
Avoid anything extremely hot or spicy during the initial recovery period. Also avoid drinking from a straw for two weeks post-surgery, as they could lead to dry sockets.
How to prevent dry sockets
You might be surprised to hear that the incision site takes several months to fully close after tooth extraction. Your dentist will advise you to avoid certain activities for a period of time because of the risk of dry socket. The name makes it sound innocuous, but it is actually very painful and potentially dangerous.
After wisdom tooth extraction, a blood clot forms in the hole in the bone where the tooth was removed—otherwise known as the socket. This blood clot protects the exposed bone and nerves, but if it dislodges or dissolves in the days following surgery, your bone and nerves are left exposed to food, fluids, and bacterial infections.
To help prevent dry socket after wisdom tooth removal, avoid these activities for about two weeks post-surgery (your dentist will give you a specific timeline and instructions):
- Drinking from a straw
- Strenuous Exercise
Your Dentist is the Best Resource
If you are nervous about wisdom tooth removal, your dentist is your best resource. Call or make an appointment to talk about any specific concerns. Having your wisdom teeth extracted is a dreaded task, but you aren't the first person to do it, so your dentist has time-tested advice to help you get through it.
Not sure if you're covered for wisdom teeth removal? No problem! With MySmile®, understanding your benefits is as easy as 1-2-3.