Wisdom teeth (third molars) are usually the last to emerge. Since they form and erupt long after the first and second molars, the others tend to spread out and leave far too little room. As they attempt to develop and erupt, they can push against other teeth and cause problems including misalignment, jaw rigidity, pain and infection.
They do not always erupt or cause problems, but the dentist may opt for removal as a precautionary measure. Even those that finally emerge without incident are more prone to decay and infection than the rest. They are not usually effective for chewing anyway because of their location.
Impacted wisdom teeth are usually discovered through routine x-rays, but they may be partially visible. If they become infected or come in contact with the jawbone or other teeth, they may cause symptoms that require treatment.
Those with certain health conditions may be required to take antibiotics before surgery to prevent infection and serious complications. Surgery usually takes place on an outpatient basis under sedation or local anesthesia. To ease pain and inflammation, aftercare may include gentle salt water rinses and the application of ice for the first 24 hours. After the 24-hour mark, moist heat may be recommended as needed at 20 minute intervals. Oral over-the-counter or prescription pain medication may be given. It can take anywhere from weeks to months to fully heal after impacted wisdom teeth are extracted.