Wisdom Teeth Removal: Pain, Impacted, Recovery & Cost

wisdom teeth impacted

Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars (aka back teeth) that we get in our mouths. Although most of us have all of our permanent teeth in by the time we’re 12 or 13 years old, wisdom teeth tend to not come in until our body is almost completely physically developed. In fact, they’re usually still growing well into our 20s and may not be fully erupted until someone is close to being 30 years old.

It’s common to see someone in college or even early adulthood experience issues with their wisdom teeth. By the way, we in dentistry also refer to these teeth as the “third molars” since, well, they’re the third set to come in.

Symptoms

If you’re getting your wisdom teeth, some of the most common warning signs include swollen gums at the back of your mouth, sore jaws, a bad taste in your mouth, halitosis (bad breath) or seeing your other teeth start to crowd together. In fact, a lot of people who wore braces but then get wisdom teeth impacted will start to see changes in their bite alignment. They might even have to get braces all over again to move their teeth back.

One of the most common symptoms of wisdom teeth is soreness or pain that comes and goes. It might flare up for a few days, die down for a month, then come back again. If the symptoms keep recurring it’s usually a good indication that it’s not going to get any better on its own.

Now, a wisdom tooth could do one of several things. It could erupt straight into the mouth without causing any type of wisdom teeth symptoms if you’re lucky. Or, it could only partially erupt, which is where a portion of the tooth is visible but the remainder of it is submerged down in your gums and bone. Then there are situations where the tooth is impacted and doesn’t have the ability to erupt; it might be wedged at an angle into the tooth next to it, blocked by bone, or surrounded in a cyst. Your dentist will need to take a full-mouth panoramic X-ray to see what’s going on for sure. If you have any type of wisdom teeth pain, it’s important to make sure they’re not infected.

For people who are lucky enough to get all of their wisdom teeth without any of the usual symptoms, it’s still important to be on the lookout for signs of cavities or gum disease. Since third molars are so hard to reach, they’re more prone to these everyday infections. In other words, your oral hygiene needs to be impeccable!

How Do I Know If I Have Wisdom Teeth?

Even if you’re not experiencing any signs of wisdom teeth symptoms, it’s safe to assume that you probably have your wisdom teeth. However, it’s noteworthy to point out that wisdom teeth are some of the most common congenitally missing teeth. In other words, you can inherit having missing wisdom teeth from your mom or dad. Some people only have three wisdom teeth instead of four, while others might not have any at all.

Still, this is a pretty small percentage of the population. Most of us don’t win the genetic lottery jackpot and still have all four third molars. And guess what? Some people even have extra! These super-numerary (additional) teeth aren’t usually the same size as a regular wisdom tooth; in most cases, they’re much smaller but located even further back behind the full-sized wisdom tooth.

You’ll usually find out that you have wisdom teeth by the time you’re in your early teens. As your dentist takes routine X-rays to evaluate your oral development or screen for cavities, they’ll be able to see your small tooth buds start to form and then gradually become full-sized third molars. They’re usually starting to develop by late elementary school and early adolescence. If you’ve made it into your 30s without ever having a visible wisdom tooth on your X-rays, then congratulations! It’s time to celebrate!

Impacted Wisdom Teeth 

One of the major reasons to need an extraction is because there isn’t room for your wisdom teeth. Impacted third molars occur when there are more teeth than mouth, so to speak. When the space behind your second (12 year) molars isn’t wide enough to let the wisdom teeth through, they’ll often get caught up inside of the jaw.

Or, your wisdom teeth grow at an angle and get stuck against the second molars. When that happens, your healthy teeth can become damaged, develop cavities, be more prone to gum disease, or even die. In an everyday scenario, your dentist will probably want to help you retain the health and integrity of your second molars over your wisdom teeth. Impacted third molars are best off removed before they interfere with your overall oral health

At this point, you can usually tell by the symptoms of soreness or swelling that you have wisdom teeth. Impacted teeth can’t erupt properly and are more prone to infections. Even when they’ve partially erupted, third molars are so hard to keep clean that they’re more likely to get cavities.

Wisdom Teeth Pain Relief

Compared to other types of toothaches, wisdom teeth pain is more of a dull ache and soreness. You might even get some joint stiffness in your jaw and TMJ. You don’t usually get that jolt of pain that shoots through your face the way a cracked or abscessed tooth does. But that’s not to say wisdom teeth pain isn’t any more comfortable; it can still ruin your day. Especially since wisdom teeth tend to cause more “come and go” type of toothaches when you might not be prepared.

So, what can be done as far as DIY wisdom teeth pain relief? Plenty! For starters, you can apply a warm or cool compress to the side of your face for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off. This process alleviates swelling, which is one of the main sources of wisdom teeth pain.

Rinsing with warm salt water a few times per day can help to take some of the inflammation out of the gum tissues in the back of your mouth. You know how babies get sore gums (and act fussy) when they’re cutting teeth? It’s no different when your third molars are coming in!

You can also take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen as long as you’re cleared by your doctor. But if you find that you’re relying on pills day after day because of wisdom teeth symptoms, it’s time to see a dentist ASAP.

When To See A Dentist

A lot of people wait until they’re in excruciating pain or know without a doubt that they have a wisdom teeth infection before they see a dentist. But by that point, your neighboring teeth could be damaged too. The best thing to do is to see your dentist for a checkup every six months, that way he or she will know what’s going on with your third molar development well before you experience any wisdom teeth symptoms. Find a dentist near you here.  

But let’s theoretically say that you haven’t seen a dentist in years. You don’t even know if you have wisdom teeth or if you do, how many there are. But for the past couple of weeks, you’ve noticed some soreness in the back of your mouth, your jaw seems a little stiff and even swollen, and you can taste something funny. There’s a good chance that it’s your wisdom tooth.

Once you finally set up an exam, your dentist is going to need to take a full mouth panoramic X-ray to see the entire area around each wisdom tooth location. At that point, you can both make an action plan as to what needs to happen next. You might not need to do anything, or your dentist may recommend having your third molars extracted. Ultimately, the goal is to help you stay pain-free and keep the rest of your mouth as healthy as possible.

What Happens During Wisdom Teeth Removal?

When your wisdom teeth are beyond-a-doubt impacted, infected, damaging your adjacent teeth, or otherwise causing you a lot of pain, your dentist is going to recommend that you have them extracted.

But wisdom teeth extractions are actually a minor form of oral surgery. They’re not the quick in-and-out “you need to have a tooth pulled” visit that other types of extractions involve. For wisdom tooth removal, most people request to be sedated or as some people say, “put under”, so that they don’t have to think about everything going on around them. That being said, it’s completely fine to stay awake during your wisdom tooth surgery if you’re comfortable with that. Just communicate those needs with your dentist.  

Depending on how your wisdom teeth are set into your jaw, a common way to remove them is to first numb that entire area of your mouth. Then the dentist will open up the gums, remove a portion of the bone above the wisdom tooth, and then section the third molar into multiple small pieces. This makes it easier to remove the entire tooth without causing structural damage to the surrounding tissues, nerves, or bone. Once the entire tooth is taken out, your dentist might place medication or a bone graft down into the socket, then suture the extraction site closed. Sutures are usually dissolvable or will need to be removed in the next week.

Sedation 

If you need sedation or general anesthesia, your dentist might refer you to an oral surgeon to have your wisdom teeth extractions completed. Oral surgeons are a type of dental expert who specializes in treatments like facial surgeries, extractions, or implant placement. Your dentist also might opt to send you to an oral surgeon if the wisdom tooth is positioned close to a facial nerve or impacted far down in the bone.

With sedation during an oral surgery like wisdom tooth extractions, you generally feel like you’re sleeping before the dentist numbs your mouth and begins the procedure. Most people feel groggy for several hours after and may not remember anything about the appointment. So if you’re one of those people who says “I want to sleep through the whole thing” then make sure you and your dentist talk about the types of anesthesia and sedation available in their office.

How Do I Prepare For A Wisdom Tooth Extraction?

There are a few important things to do when you’re preparing for having wisdom teeth extractions. First, make sure your mouth is as healthy and clean as it can be. Brush and floss regularly to prevent any bacterial buildup, so that you can recover without the risk of added infection.

Second, prep for your recovery. Make sure you have someone to drive you to and from the appointment and then to stay with you while any sedatives wear off. Now is also the time to start stocking up on soft foods that are easy to eat and finding a place in your home where you can rest with your head elevated and still reach the things you need. You might want to plan on camping out in the living room for a while.

On another note, be sure to fill any prescriptions that your dentist has written and plan to take them as directed. Some people need to take antibiotics leading up to their wisdom teeth extractions because of infection. Others might have a pain management protocol set in place to ensure they’re comfortable. Be sure to have everything ready so that you’re not scrambling on the day of your surgery.

Make sure not to stop halfway through your prescription of antibiotics and to continue taking it until all of the pills are gone. If your dentist prescribed a special mouth rinse such as chlorhexidine, have it ready to go. You might need to use it prior to the extraction as well as while you recover, depending on the health of your mouth.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction Recovery Time

These days, most dentists don’t need to prescribe strong pain pills or narcotics for wisdom tooth recovery. Instead, cold compresses or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are all that’s needed. As long as you keep inflammation down, the recovery process can be as straightforward as possible. If prescription pain relieves are necessary, it’s usually only for the first day or so of your wisdom teeth recovery.

Most importantly, follow your surgical home care instructions as carefully as possible. That means no smoking, no drinking through a straw (the suction might pull your clot out and cause a dry socket) and again, taking medication as directed. You’ll also need to be really gentle about cleaning your mouth. Don’t brush around your extraction sites for several days and only rinse gently to remove food debris. Try to avoid spitting (again, because of dislodging the clot) and instead let any water just gently drip out of your mouth.

For the first few days of your wisdom teeth recovery, plan to stick to a soft diet. Food like yogurt, ice cream, pudding, applesauce, and cottage cheese are all great to have on hand. Since your mouth will be numb for several hours after the appointment, try not to have anything that’s too hot, such as soup. After several days you can move on to more firm foods. Just be sure to avoid anything that’s too hard or crunchy, as they might damage the extraction sites.

Plan to give yourself at least a week off from work or school. Don’t overexert yourself. If you’re someone who usually hits up the gym pretty heavily, plan to rest in the meantime. Too much stress or physical exertion can get your blood pressure up and delay how quickly your extraction sites heal.

Potential Complications

If for any reason you aren’t feeling better after your oral surgery or you can tell that your clots have come out because of bleeding that doesn’t improve, call your dentist or oral surgeon immediately. Dry sockets affect about 1 in 10 wisdom teeth extraction cases and can delay your recovery time by an extra week. Not to mention, dry sockets are extremely painful.

A dry socket from a wisdom tooth extraction is when the blood clot inside of your extraction site comes loose or falls out. Essentially, it’s leaving an open area and bone exposed to everything else in your mouth. Since our mouths are full of bacteria and food or liquids are always coming in, these sites can be extremely tender. Your dentist can treat dry sockets by placing medication down inside of them to help you get back on track for a speedy recovery.

With a regular third molar extraction, you’re down for about a week. But with dry sockets, you may need up to two weeks before you’re able to go back to work or school.

Sometimes people will notice small bone fragments work their way through their gums a couple of weeks after surgery. It usually looks like a tiny sliver and feels sharp to your tongue as it works its way out. Just know that if it happens during your wisdom teeth recovery, it’s totally normal.

Wisdom Teeth Cost Removal

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the average cost of having your wisdom teeth taken out. This is where I start throwing in all sorts of disclaimers, like:

“It depends on if you’re adding sedation or general anesthesia to your procedure.”

Or

“Which type of doctor is taking out your wisdom teeth? A dentist or an oral surgeon?”

And

“How many wisdom teeth are you having taken out?”

As you might have already guessed, simply getting a quote for wisdom tooth extraction costs isn’t something a dentist can give you over the phone. A lot of it will depend on how the tooth is situated, the process involved, and even what area of the country you live in because of cost of living expenses. Oh, and don’t forget to add your insurance into the equation! How much insurance covers for a wisdom tooth extraction might be 50% or it might be more; it just depends on your policy.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction Average Cost Without Insurance

Extraction TypeCost Per ToothAll Four Teeth
Simple Extraction$75 to $200$300 to $1,000
Surgical Extraction (Soft Tissue Impaction)$225 to $600$800 to $1,800
Surgical Extraction (Bony Impaction)$250 to $500$1,500 to $3,000

As far as the dollar average for costs of extractions, the cheapest cost for having a tooth pulled is usually around $99. That doesn’t include any type of general anesthesia and it’s only if the procedure is a simple tooth removal. But when we start talking about removing a wisdom tooth, it might be somewhere closer to $220-$340 or more per tooth, just for the extraction (not counting any additional procedures or sedatives.)

When you see your dentist for an actual exam, they’ll give you a detailed treatment plan that outlines the cost of wisdom tooth removal based on whether it’s simple or surgical, any added fees for sedation, and then calculate your insurance benefits into the equation. That way you have a black and white dollar figure as to what you can expect to pay out of pocket. There’s no way you’re ever going to get that information or even a close estimate simply by calling offices around town and asking how much they charge for a wisdom tooth extraction. It’s a case-by-case scenario.

Wisdom Teeth Recap

Almost everybody gets wisdom teeth. Most of us have four of them, but some of us are lucky enough to have missing ones. And yes, a few people have extras. When there isn’t room for your third molars to come in, they can get impacted. Wisdom tooth symptoms include things like soreness, inflammation, and jaw pain. If you need to have your wisdom teeth taken out, it’s performed by a dentist or oral surgeon with or without sedation or general anesthesia.

Typical recovery takes about a week. Complications like dry sockets aren’t as common, but they’re painful and can delay your healing by an extra week or more. To find out whether you need your wisdom teeth removed or not, your dentist will need to take a full mouth panoramic X-ray to see what’s going on inside of your mouth. At that point in time, they can let you know how much your unique wisdom tooth extraction case will cost. 

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