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Words of Wisdom

Wisdom teeth are often mentioned with a grimace, only coming up in conversation if they are a problem. Why on earth are they called wisdom teeth when they flare up and make us feel less than clever? I’m sure we could all think of a few better names for these, often trouble causing, teeth!

Formally referred to as third molars, wisdom teeth were given the ‘wisdom’ name due to their late arrival in the mouth – making an appearance much later than the other teeth, presumably at a stage when a person is older and wiser. These teeth usually erupt between the ages of 17 and 25 years old.  It is believed by anthropologists that wisdom teeth were required by our ancestors, who had larger jaws, to help them chew their food which, unlike today’s diet, would have been much more difficult to chew and digest, including leaves, roots, nuts and meats.

Thanks to modern diet and lifestyles, we really don’t have a requirement (or the space) for wisdom teeth, which not everyone gets. They are the most common congenitally missing teeth, with some people getting some, but not all four of them.

Image shows both upper and lower impacted wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth often resemble molars, but they can also look quite different.  They can be developed in the jaws, but never erupt through the gums into the mouth (unerupted), developed and fully erupt or only partially erupt (in some cases stuck against the tooth in front where they become impacted).  For some, they don’t cause any symptoms, however for others they can cause pain, inflammation and in some cases infection.

Wisdom teeth often resemble molars, but they can also look quite different.

The most common problems arise when a tooth is partly erupted and/or impacted. The gum can become sore and swollen, usually when food and/or bacteria in the plaque biofilm gather under the flap of gum.  This can be very painful and makes it very difficult to clean.

Image shows an impacted wisdom tooth

In the UK wisdom teeth are no longer routinely extracted. When making any decision regarding extraction of wisdom teeth your dentist will consider the guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), on removing wisdom teeth in adults. The guidance can be found here.

Growing Smiles top tips on caring for wisdom teeth:

  • Keep them clean

Wisdom teeth are right at the back of the mouth and can often be hard to reach all surfaces and in between.  Place your toothbrush at the back of your mouth as far as you can reach, then close your mouth slightly – this relaxes the cheek muscle and gives you a little more room to get the brush further back to reach teeth at the very back of the mouth.

If the tooth is partly erupted, tilt your toothbrush to reach behind the other molars to clean the wisdom tooth and the gum around it. We recommend using a single tufted brush, forward focus or the interspace tip for the Oral B electric toothbrush.

  • To relieve discomfort, using a hot salt mouthwash or chlorhexidine mouthwash/gel can help

Add teaspoon of salt to a tumbler full of warm/hot water. Rinse around your mouth vigorously, tilting your head back to help reach the back of your mouth. This can be done several times a day. 

You could also try using a chlorhexidine (antibacterial) mouthwash which can help reduce inflammation. We recommend the Curasept Anti Discolouration System Implant rinse which contains 0.2% chlorhexidine. Use for 5-7 days only.

Placing Corsodyl gel, either with a clean finger or a brush, around the inflamed area can help. You will find several products that will help reduce soreness and inflammation here.

  • If in pain, take painkillers

Pain relief tablets (taken orally, as directed on the packet – do not put beside the tooth), such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can help in the short term, but contact your dental team for advice if pain continues.

  • Visit your dentist regularly

Visiting your dentist regularly is important. He/she will be able to monitor wisdom teeth development in the context of your overall oral and general health and advise if or when treatment is required.

For further advice on caring for wisdom teeth contact your dental team or take Time Out For Teeth with your Growing Smiles coach. Click here for further information.

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