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Teens and STDs: How to Start the ConversationCollegiateParent
At 51 years old, I still have all my wisdom teeth. It is one of those fun facts I tell people periodically, followed by “that’s why I’m so smart.”
It gets a laugh, or at least a snicker most of the time.
Wisdom teeth got their nickname because they develop in the mouth in the late teens and early 20 thought they coincided with an age where we become more “wise” as adults.
Wisdom teeth are the third of three adult molars that develop. The first molars come around the age of five-and-a-half to six years, the second molars develop at about 12-14 years and the third molars, the wisdom teeth, erupt as early as 15 and as late as 21.
Interestingly, more and more people are being born without some or all of their wisdom teeth. The thought on this is that wisdom teeth are being phased out by evolution, and in a few hundred years we may not be seeing them anymore.
But for now, wisdom teeth are here and can be a big pain (pun intended) for our kids. The vast majority of Americans have had one or more of their wisdom teeth extracted, and your teen or young adult child is likely to have a wisdom tooth or two (or four) removed before they are 25.
I went through it with both of my children, who got their wisdom teeth out at ages 20 and 24, respectively.
Whether or not a wisdom tooth needs to be removed, is determined by its position in the mouth. Dr. Andrew Palermo, D.D.S, explains it like this: “often there isn't enough room in the mouth for a third molar. This results in the tooth being trapped or "impacted."
If the tooth is either fully or partially impacted and doesn't have the room to erupt into its proper position behind the second molar, then it should be removed.” In layman’s terms your child’s mouth may simply not be big enough to accommodate the wisdom teeth without complications. Regular visits to the dentist should include asking about wisdom teeth. If your child is experiencing jaw pain or swollen gums, they should be seen by a dentist.
Unfortunately in my son’s case, his initial mouth pain was misdiagnosed by someone at his college student health center as a "mouth sore." This caused a cascade of increasing pain and led to infection and complications. Only after bringing him home to see his local dentist would he begin the proper care, wisdom tooth removal, and road to recovery.
Your local dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon to help minimize complications on what could be a difficult extraction.
After an extraction, the first 24-48 hours are the most important because this is the time it typically takes for the body to form a solid clot in the extraction site. Care should be taken to be gentle on the area.
Encourage your child to tell their professors or employers ahead of time if their wisdom tooth extraction is anticipated to interfere with their class/work schedule. This way they can get as much work done as possible in advance and notify supervisors about absences.
In the first 48 hrs after the procedure, vigorous chewing and hard foods should be avoided to minimize the chance of the clot to breaking loose and complicating the healing process. Soft foods like mashed potatoes (the ones in the envelopes are smooth as silk), broth/pureed soups, smoothies, applesauce and yogurt are fan favorites after wisdom tooth removal.
With all these soft foods and ice cream shakes, using a straw seems like a logical choice but it is not. The straw is your enemy post-wisdom tooth removal. The suction from using a straw can pull the blood clot away from the socket and dislodge it.
Your dentist or oral surgeon will likely encourage your child to “ice the area” which can be a little tricky unless you invest in or borrow a specially designed jaw ice pack. They generally run for less than $20 on Amazon and can be a life-saver for for hands-free icing of the jaw. I ordered one that my son and daughter both used, then two of my neighbors borrowed it after their children had their wisdom teeth removed. All agree it was a very useful aid in the healing process.
After an extraction the body will usually heal the area quickly over the next week or so, but complications, like dry socket, can occur. If the clot breaks out, and the area becomes painful, your child’s dental professional should take a look. The dentist may apply a special paste in the site to help the body form a new clot and heal properly and can prescribe medication, if needed. If in doubt, check it out. Both my children required additional trips to the dentist to facilitate their healing.
To have a little “fun” with the process I decided to enjoin the help of the Tooth Fairy. I let my grown kids know that the Tooth Fairy would be coming and they should ask the surgeon if they could keep their wisdom teeth. Tongue in cheek I told my kids to leave the teeth outside their door, which is post-pandemic protocol for the Tooth Fairy. My son and daughter were all too happy to play along, and the Tooth Fairy did indeed come and take the teeth, and left a note indicating that payment was left through Venmo.
You may find your child misses their wisdom teeth once they have them removed. Don’t worry, that is normal since they were pretty attached to them. 😊
Best of luck!