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Removing wisdom teeth

3-minute read

This page will give you information about removing wisdom teeth. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the teeth at the back of your mouth (the third molar teeth). They tend to come through (erupt) in the late teens or twenties. Some wisdom teeth do not come through fully (partly erupt) and get stuck (or impacted) against nearby teeth or bone. This often leaves a flap of gum over your tooth. Others grow too long (over erupt).

A wisdom tooth may need to be removed for one or more of the following reasons.

  • repeated or serious infection of the gum
  • tooth decay
  • a wisdom tooth can grow out too far and damage the cheek or gum
  • you may need an operation to move your jaw forwards or backwards
  • your tooth may be in a position that makes it difficult to clean properly
  • an orthodontist may need to make space to move other teeth backwards
  • you may have a cyst near or around your tooth, or other jaw problems
  • your tooth may be in the line of a jaw fracture
Illustration showing an impacted lower wisdom tooth.
An impacted lower wisdom tooth.

Are there any alternatives to removing a wisdom tooth?

Simple painkillers such as paracetamol can help control mild pain caused by wisdom teeth.

Antibiotics and rinsing with hot, salty water or chlorhexidine mouthwash can help when the area around the wisdom tooth is infected.

Removing the gum lying over your tooth (operculectomy) may be possible in certain cases if a wisdom tooth has partly erupted.

If the root of your tooth lies close to the nerve that supplies feeling to your lower lip, it is possible to remove just the crown of your tooth (coronectomy).

What does the procedure involve?

Most upper wisdom teeth can be removed easily under a local anaesthetic. Lower wisdom teeth can be more difficult to remove.

The procedure usually takes 10 minutes to an hour, depending on how many wisdom teeth need to be removed and how difficult they are to remove.

Removing a wisdom tooth can involve cutting the gum to uncover your tooth, removing bone around your tooth and dividing your tooth with a drill.

What complications can happen?

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • swelling and bruising
  • infection
  • dry socket, where the socket does not heal well
  • retained roots, where it is not possible to remove the whole tooth
  • damage to nearby teeth
  • sinus problems
  • broken jaw
  • not being able to open your mouth fully (trismus) and jaw stiffness
  • damage to nerves
  • osteonecrosis, a rare condition where tissue in your jawbone starts to die

How soon will I recover?

You may need to take up to a week off work. You should be able to return to normal activities within a week.

Most people make a full recovery.

Summary

Wisdom teeth can sometimes cause serious problems.

Removing a wisdom tooth is usually a safe and effective way to prevent your symptoms from coming back.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


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