Wisdom teeth have great potential to cause a variety of problems. So why do we even have them? What is their function? Is it safe to have those teeth removed? Below are our most frequently asked questions regarding wisdom teeth and teeth removals:
Why are they called ‘wisdom’ teeth?
Late in the 1600’s, the idea of common dentistry was advancing and dentists started calling them ‘teeth of wisdom’ to the public, mainly because this set of molars didn’t grow in until we are about 17-24 years old, old enough to be a bit ‘wiser’ than our earlier, more formative years.
The rest of our teeth, both primary and permanent, form prenatally as buds. Wisdom teeth are actually the only teeth that don’t develop until after birth.
Why do we have wisdom teeth to begin with?
Wisdom teeth are an evolutionary vestige from our primitive ancestors who needed that extra set of molars to help chew their hunter-gatherer diet of tree bark, raw meat, nuts, roots and leaves.
Once ancient humans became less nomadic and adapted to use cooking and meal preparation techniques, the food they ate became softer and easier to chew. Over time, this eliminated the need for the 3rd set of molars. With better meal preparation techniques along with the consumption of cooked meat instead of raw meat, the size of the human brain increased dramatically. Our modern jaws simply don’t have room for that 3rd set of molars.
Most adults have between 1 and 4 molars growing in the back of their mouths. A lucky 35% of Americans do not have wisdom teeth at all.
Will I Be Awake During The Surgery? Will It Hurt?
One of the biggest concerns we hear is anxiety due to the degree of pain and length of recovery time this common procedure will have.
Depending on your level of comfort, as well as the type of impaction, an oral surgeon will administer either a local anesthetic or a general anesthetic. Local anesthetic just numbs the mouth area, but you’ll be awake during the entire procedure. General anesthesia can knock you out for the procedure, or just put you under mild sedation. Either way, you may be too drowsy to drive from the procedure so please make sure someone can help you get to and from the office.
Most wisdom teeth removal procedures take up to 90 minutes, depending on how many teeth you need pulled.
How Much Recovery Time Will I Need?
Expect about two to three days of mild discomfort and swelling of cheeks. Your post-operative healing time will vary, typically ranging from a couple of days to a week. Oral surgeons will typically give you a doctor’s note for any activities they recommend you miss during this downtime.
How Much Does Wisdom Teeth Removal Cost? How Much Does Insurance Pay?
The issue of wisdom tooth removal usually comes down to money, insurance and financing.
A simple wisdom tooth extraction using local anesthetic costs $75 to $200, or $300 to $800 for removal of all four wisdom teeth. In comparison, removal of an impacted tooth, a more complex procedure, can cost between $225 to $600 a tooth. Patients who opt for general anesthesia should expect another $250 to $800 added to the total price tag for the procedure.
Dental insurance may cover up to half of a wisdom tooth removal when the removal is considered medically necessary. Some dental plans cap what they’ll pay annually for all dental care at $1,000 to $1,500. The best way to know is by checking with your insurer to better understand what coverage they will provide.
If I’m having 1 wisdom tooth pulled, should they pull all of them?
Ultimately that is your decision.
Most patients prefer the convenience of undergoing the procedure to remove all of their wisdom teeth at the same time. This way, there is only one anesthetic cost and they do not have to endure multiple surgery days, and multiple recoveries. Again, this is a factor of which teeth removals are considered medically necessary, and covered by insurance, versus elective or preventative surgery of non-impacted teeth.
Surgeries where multiple teeth are pulled during the same procedure generally have a similar recovery time than those involving just a single tooth. Make sure you visit an oral surgeon for a consultation first, and follow their advice to limit post-op discomfort and speed recovery times.
Is wisdom teeth removal surgery risky?
Wisdom tooth removal surgery is very safe and routine. Oral surgeons typically perform this same procedure all day, every day. It is very routine in the field of dentistry, and oral surgeons are usually the best suited for these procedures. Complications may occur with any surgery, but a wisdom tooth removal procedure is relatively benign and simple.
Possible tooth extraction complications can include temporary or permanent nerve damage. Dry socket is also a risk factor. Dry socket occurs when the blot clot that forms in the vacated space becomes dislodged for some reason, leaving the bone and nerves exposed.
Make sure the oral surgeon you choose explains all the risks and complications before consenting to have a wisdom tooth or teeth removed. Always be informed about who your doctor is and what kind of experience and specialties they have.