6 Important Questions About Wisdom Teeth

All about wisdom teeth

Angie's List checked in with top dentists and oral surgeons about current practices on wisdom teeth removal.

Wisdom teeth can cause all kinds of problems. But just what are they, why do they cause such trouble and what issues surround their removal? Here's a handy guide.

Why do we call them "wisdom teeth"?

Originally called "teeth of wisdom" in the 1600s and later "wisdom teeth" by 1848, our third molars don’t usually grow in until we’re between 17 and 24 years old, when we're a little older and wiser than our formative years. They're our only teeth that don’t develop until after birth. Our primary and permanent teeth form prenatally as buds.

Why do we even have wisdom teeth anyway?

Wisdom teeth are a remnant from our primitive ancestors who needed those four extra molars to help chew their hunter-gatherer diet of sinewy, raw meat and tree bark, nuts, roots and leaves. The advent of cooking and meal preparation created cuisine that was softer and easier to chew, thus eliminating the need for those third molars. Our brain size has also increased from that of the caveman, so our modern jaws simply don’t have room for a third set of back chompers.

While most of us have anywhere from one to four third molars growing in those narrow gaps at the back of our mouths, a lucky 35 percent of Americans are born without any wisdom teeth at all. 

If I opt to have my wisdom teeth taken out, will I be awake and how long and painful can I expect my recovery period to be?

A patient's anxiety about the degree of pain and length of recovery can drive a real reluctance to undergo wisdom tooth extraction.

Depending on your comfort level and how impacted your teeth are, a dental professional will administer either a local anesthetic or a general anesthetic. The local numbs the mouth area, but you'll be awake during the procedure. The general can knock you out or put you under mild sedation, so be sure to have someone drive you to and from the office.

Most procedures take up to an hour and half, and you should expect two to three days of discomfort and swelling. Your post-operative healing time will vary, usually ranging from a couple of days to a week, and yes, the older you are, the longer you should expect to be sidelined.

Is this kind of surgery risky?

“The surgery is very safe,” asserts Dr. Christy Cranfill, a dentist at the highly rated Marketplace Dental Care in Indianapolis. “Dentists and, especially oral surgeons, do this exact same procedure all day, every day. It is very routine in the field of dentistry. Like any surgery, complications may occur, but for the most part they are rare and relatively benign.”

Some possible post-extraction complications can include nerve damage, which can be temporary or permanent. You may also encounter a painful condition known as dry socket. This occurs when the blot clot that forms after removal in the vacant space dissipates or becomes dislodged for some reason, leaving the bone and nerves exposed.

Make sure your dentist or oral surgeon explains all the risks and complications before consenting to an extraction of your molars.

How much does wisdom teeth removal cost, and how much does insurance typically pay?

For many people, the root of the issue of wisdom tooth removal can come down to money.

According to the Healthcare Blue Book, a free online guide that lists fair prices for healthcare services, the nationwide average for a simple tooth removal can cost $134, whereas removal of an impacted tooth in the bone with unexpected complications can run up to $481. The fair price is what a health service provider typically allows from insurance companies as full payment, which is substantially less than the billed amount.

Service Fee Fee Details
Tooth removal $134 Extraction of erupted tooth or exposed root (elevation and/or forceps removal).
Surgical tooth removal $228 Surgical removal of erupted tooth requiring elevation of mucoperiosteal flap and removal of bone and/or section of tooth.
Surgical root removal $251 Surgical removal of residual tooth roots (cutting procedure).
Impacted tooth removal (soft tissue) $259 Removal of impacted tooth in soft tissues.
Impacted tooth removal (partialy bony) $331 Removal of impacted tooth that is partially in bone.
Impacted tooth removal (completely bony) $404 Removal of impacted tooth that is completely in bone.
Impacted tooth removal (with complications) $481 Removal of impacted tooth that is completely in bone with unusual surgical complications.

Source: healthcarebluebook.com, based on national averages

Some dental insurance plans categorize simple tooth extraction as “routine corrective treatment,” whereas they may classify removal of an impacted wisdom tooth as “major dental care.” According to the California Dental Association, most dental plans cover 70 to 80 percent of routine procedures but less than 50 percent of major ones.

So given these estimates, waiting to have your wisdom teeth pulled may cost you ten times more if the tooth becomes impacted.

To an insurer, what constitutes a routine procedure rather than a major surgery can vary depending on the plan or the company.

If I'm already having one wisdom tooth taken out, shouldn't my dentist just remove them all out at once?

Ultimately, that’s really your decision. Many patients prefer the relative convenience of undergoing one general session with anesthetic and surgery to remove all of their wisdom teeth. This way, they pay for only one administration of anesthetic and are sidelined once with recovery. Surgeries that involve removing multiple teeth generally have the same recovery time as those involving just a single tooth. Whether you plan on removing a single wisdom tooth or multiple teeth, the same advice applies: Check with your insurance carrier to determine the exact out-of-pocket costs involved with your coverage.

More Like This

Before and After Your Wisdom Tooth Removal


An impacted wisdom tooth is diffcult to remove.
This impacted tooth is erupting at an angle that will make it difficult to remove. (Illustration by Katie Carman)

Follow these tips to avoid problem during oral surgery to have your wisdom teeth extracted. Doing so may help you recover with fewer complications.


I have a wisdom tooth that has caused severe pain and swelling so bad it has affected my entire left jaw including my tongue and throat. My problem is I underwent radiation treatment for tonsil caner which was completed four months ago, the oral surgeon insist I go through Barametric oxygen treatment because of the radiation treatment, however my ENT which found the cancer says it may or may not be needed, but the tooth must be removed and if problems arise, we deal with it then. My dentist says he can remove it safely because the roots are straight and should have no problems. Two conflicting ideas, what should I do?

Speaking of rare wisdom teeth removal complications, what about those who have tooth roots into the sinuses, and get a hole from the mouth into the sinuses?

My wisdom tooth is almost done growing but I been noticing that my lower jaw has been hurting. It's on the same side as the tooth, but it hurts in the middle. Is that right?

They can grow back coz I'm having mine removed Again!!!!

Same here I am 40 years old and had 2 wisdom pulled in my 20's then had the other two pulled in my 30's. Now the dentist has said i have wisdom teeth to be pulled. She told me i was crazy, that wisdom teeth dont grow back once pulled.

Hello, I'm a little concerned with my wisdom teeth, they keep growing back. I just had my bottom right wisdom tooth removed at the end of november 2012, now it's starting to grow again. This is not the first time either but I didn't make a big deal because the assistant dentist said it is impossible for a wisdom tooth to grow back. So I questioned myself on exactly which teeth I had gotten removed. Now I know for sure that my wisdom teeth keep growing back in. What does this mean, am I abnormal? Because everyone says it is impossible for wisdom teeth to grow back.

this is a medical condition known as "supernumerary teeth," it is quite rare but is not anything to be concerned with other than the fact that it could cause problems just like regular wisdom teeth because that is what they are. i am not a dentist just to clarify i am just in a lot of pain with my wisdom teeth growing in "buccoangular" so i have been doing a lot of research on this and i hope that helps.

the reason of extra sets of molars in this article is not exactly true. there is a physiological reason why out body does that. Our permanent molars come in 3 sets in 6 years intervals respectively. That is 6 years old, 12 years old, and 18 years old. Before the development of modern dentistry, our molars would easily decayed out and broken apart completely simply in a few years. So the 12 years molars and later 18 years molars will naturally have spaces to grow into. But due to the advance in dentistry, we stop losing our molars, so naturally there is not enough spaces for those spare molars. The wisdom teeth are not there for extra chewing power, but for replacement at a later age.

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