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Of all the dramatic and sometimes depressing changes that come with  getting older, a third row of molars is hardly the first thing anyone thinks of.

Not everyone grows wisdom teeth, but the people who do often find out it’s not as forgettable an experience as it might sound.

Typically coming in during the late teen and early adult years, wisdom teeth are not necessarily a problem. Plenty of people can live their entire adult lives with their wisdom teeth fully intact and no damaging consequences, but in over 70% of cases, the teeth become “impacted,” damaging nerves in the jaw, or grow in out of position, leading to a litany of problems, including bone damage and gum disease.

A misaligned tooth is easy enough to diagnose but can cause serious issues in the jaw. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a wisdom tooth to come in almost completely horizontal, which, naturally, puts pressure on neighboring teeth, causing bone or nerve damage.


Luckily, this is easy to treat — as easy as yanking any other tooth, at least. A Los Angeles dentist can easily perform the procedure, applying a local anesthetic, and sedative if necessary, and giving the non-conformist chomper a good pull. Usually, the healing process for a simple removal is relatively straightforward.

Taking out an impacted tooth — one that fails to emerge completely from the gum or jaw — is significantly more difficult, and far more likely to lead to later complications. This condition can develop for a number of reasons, be it obstruction from another tooth or an imbalance between the size of the wisdom tooth and size of the jaw. When it does, though, the tooth can damage nerves in the mouth, push other teeth out of position, or inflame the gum casing that encloses it.

“Partially erupted,” teeth are more troublesome than both teeth that fully emerge (even a bit out of alignment) or stay fully covered, because they create gaps in the gumline that collect food particles bacteria subsequently feed on. All wisdom teeth are difficult to clean properly, because of their position in the back of the mouth, but a partially erupted tooth is like a protected pocket for bacterial feasting.

Whatever its status or orientation, an impacted tooth will require surgery to remove. (Many dentists perform these procedures regularly, but in some cases, it will be necessary to go to a specialist.) Digging out an impacted tooth often means incising the gum, which carries its own risks and potential complications. Stitches are usually needed following surgery.

What the extraction and healing processed is like depends to a large extent on how far the tooth has been allowed to progress before being removed. Some dentists like to get at wisdom teeth as soon as they show up on an x-ray, in that way they can avoid problems that can sometimes arise later.

In the worst scenario, removing a badly impacted tooth can permanently damage nerves in the jaw, numbing parts of the face and tongue. However, this is  extremely rare. The worst most people can expect is chipmunk cheeks and a few days of eating ice cream on the couch. Bleeding is normal for the first day or so after the procedure, but as long as you avoid brushing around the healing area, and stick to a liquid diet, the clotting should take care of itself. If it doesn’t, and the dreaded dry sockets come into play, your dentist can treat the vulnerable area with antibiotics, and everything should be fine.