Kids go through a lot of growth and development throughout their teen years. From learning to drive to going to prom, teens have a whole host of exciting new experiences.
One less exciting aspect of growing up? Getting wisdom teeth removed.
Wisdom teeth, or third molars, typically start to grow in between ages 17 and 21. For some young adults, wisdom teeth erupt and never cause any problems. For others, wisdom teeth never grow in at all.
But for many teens, wisdom teeth can cause crooked teeth, pain, infection and more.
Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?
If our wisdom teeth are destined to be pulled, why do so many of us grow them in the first place? One theory is evolution: Our early ancestors needed an extra row of teeth to chew hard items like roots, nuts and uncooked meat.
Regardless of their origin, wisdom teeth aren’t necessary for modern diets. In fact, if left unremoved, wisdom teeth can sometimes cause more harm than good.
Why Teens Need to Have Their Wisdom Teeth Pulled
Your teen may never grow wisdom teeth, or they may grow them but never need them pulled. Your dentist will detect wisdom teeth and identify potential problems with their growth through an x-ray during a regular dental visit.
If you have any concerns about the state of your teen’s wisdom teeth, ask your dentist during their next scheduled appointment. If you can’t wait, give them a call for guidance on what you should do.
What Happens if You Don’t Get Your Wisdom Teeth Out
If your teen goes longer than a year without seeing a dentist, their dentist may not be able to properly monitor the wisdom teeth. Unmonitored wisdom teeth could result in a few issues:
With four extra wisdom teeth, space can become valuable for your teeth. And if your teen has a small jaw, those extra molars can cause crowding. Crowding can make wisdom teeth become impacted, which means they either don’t fully break the surface or become misaligned.
Chronic pain near your teen’s partially erupted wisdom teeth could be a sign of infection. When food and bacteria are trapped beneath a partially-erupted tooth, it can easily cause a painful infection in this sensitive area. Bacterial infections in the mouth can spread to other parts of your teen’s body and require more serious treatment.
Shifting and crooked teeth
When wisdom teeth grow in, they can push against and misalign the other teeth, causing a straight smile to morph into a crooked grin. In some cases, this could present the need for orthodontic treatment.
If wisdom teeth grow in crooked, they can potentially damage nearby teeth by rubbing against them, which could result in cavities.
The sac next to your teen’s wisdom tooth can become filled with fluid and create a cyst. This can destroy the bone or tooth roots, and in unusual cases, an untreated cyst can lead to a tumor—and a possible surgical procedure.
What Happens When Your Teen Gets Their Wisdom Teeth Removed
If your dentist has recommended your teen’s wisdom teeth be pulled, you can ask the following questions to prepare yourself and your teen:
How many teeth will be removed?
Is your dentist or oral surgeon removing all four teeth, or just one or two at a time? Will the other teeth need to be removed later?
What type of anesthesia will be used?
If your dentist or oral surgeon chooses to use general anesthesia, plan on accompanying your teen (or having another responsible adult chaperone if you’re unavailable). The general anesthesia causes grogginess, which makes it dangerous for them to operate a motor vehicle after the surgery.
Local anesthesia means your teen will be conscious during the surgery, but shouldn’t feel any pain. Though local anesthesia doesn’t have the same sedative effect as general anesthesia, they may still prefer to have someone drive them home if they are sore or tired afterward.
How long will the procedure take?
Depending on how many wisdom teeth are being pulled, and whether or not the teeth are compacted or in poor health, your teen’s surgery can range from an hour to several hours.
How should your teen get prepared?
Your dentist or oral surgeon may advise your teen to avoid certain medications prior to surgery, like blood thinners or aspirin. Your teen may also need to fast before the procedure.
How to Recover From Getting Wisdom Teeth Removed
After your teen has their wisdom teeth pulled, make sure you both have and understand clear instructions from the dentist or surgeon regarding the following:
Your teen will probably experience bleeding the first couple of days post-surgery. They should avoid excessive and forceful spitting so they don’t dislodge the blood clot from the wisdom tooth socket. Replace gauze over the extraction site as directed by your dentist or oral surgeon.
The dentist or surgeon may prescribe pain medication, or your teen may be able to manage pain with an over-the-counter medication, such as Tylenol or Advil.
If swelling occurs, use an ice pack on the area. Any swelling around the cheeks will usually improve in two or three days.
After surgery, your teen should plan to rest for the remainder of the day. Avoid strenuous or athletic activities that could dislodge the blood clot from the socket.
Lots of water after surgery is important. Avoid caffeinated, carbonated or hot beverages within the first 24 hours post-surgery, and remind your teen to refrain from drinking with a straw for at least a week to avoid dislodging the blood clot from the socket.
Your teen should eat soft foods like yogurt or applesauce for the first 24 hours after the procedure. They can reintroduce more substantial foods, like bread, pasta and mashed potatoes, once it feels comfortable. Your teen should avoid hard, chewy, hot and spicy foods that might get stuck in the socket or irritate the wound.
Don’t brush teeth, rinse the mouth, spit or use mouthwash during the first 24 hours after surgery. After that first day, your teen can begin brushing their teeth again, though extremely gently, especially near the surgery wound(s).Also after the first 24 hours, they should also do a gentle salt water mouth rinses every two hours and after meals for a week.
Tobacco products can delay healing and increase the risk of complications after oral surgery — your teen should avoid them for at least 72 hours after the procedure, if not longer.
Sometimes, stitches are necessary for the healing process. Follow all your dental professional’s instructions about stitches if your teen needs them.
Brought to you by Blue Hills Dental. Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, medical or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. #2017-41931 (exp. 6/19).