July 14th, 2008
11:34 AM ET

Losing my wisdom (teeth)

By Saundra Young

CNN Medical Senior Producer


I was expecting pain.  I had heard the stories - as friends, family and colleagues began weighing in, it seemed everybody had one and couldn't wait to share it with me!  The thing is, theirs were all stories of young teenagers and twenty-somethings, and mine, was, well, let's just say mine was a tale of a much, much older woman who was having her wisdom teeth extracted!


My new dentist was surprised to learn I still had my third molars at my age.  They had to come out he insisted. There was decay, and some bone and tissue damage.


And then came the stories  - of faces swollen beyond recognition, and unbelievable pain.  I was warned: "Hey, this is oral surgery. This is serious business." 


I was warned about a horribly painful phenomenon called "dry socket," the most common complication after surgery.  This occurs when the blood clot in the socket where the tooth has been pulled comes out  - theoretically if you do something like sip or suck on a straw - exposing bone and nerves.   I was told I needed to avoid dry socket at all costs.


So I did what any serious journalist in search of detailed information does: I popped online and got a crash course on wisdom tooth extractions.  (I even watched a video of an extraction on YouTube.)


It seems I really was something of a freak! In most people, wisdom teeth come in between the ages of 15 and 25. Often they’re taken out almost immediately.  Most oral health specialists recommend early removal in order to eliminate problems down the line such as an impacted tooth, trapped within the gum, which can damage or destroy the second molar, as mine apparently did. 


According to the American Academy of General Dentistry, an impacted wisdom tooth is the most common developmental ailment.  That's because they're the teeth most likely to decay because they're so difficult to reach and clean.


I found out there are some pretty serious problems tied to impacted third molars, including  bacteria and plaque build-up, cysts or tumors, infection, and jaw and gum disease.  And I was well on my way to some of these problems.  My surgeon and I couldn't understand why none of my former dentists suggested taking them out!


Maybe it’s because I never had any major symptoms.  Perhaps I'm now making up for lost time.  The surgery went well, but I'm in pain.  Of  course the painkillers help.  There's been swelling and I've been icing my jaw for days now.  I'm on antibiotics to ward off infection.    So I've spent the last three days popping pills, taking it easy and eating soft foods like mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.  Eating hurts! 


All in all, it wasn't as bad as I thought.  I'm feeling pretty good although  today - Day 3 - is the day the major swelling is supposed to kick in, according to my dentist.  And here's something else to look forward to: Because he did only one side (top and bottom), more surgery is in my future.  I think I'm too old for this!  Or am I?


Am I truly that much of an anomaly, or are there plenty of you out there whose wisdom teeth were removed much later in life, successfully and without much fanfare?


Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (576 Responses)
  1. McCain-in-4, Clarksburg, MD

    This is really a problem with the recent inovation of Dental Insurance, and the gaping holes in dental care. Because I have employer offered insurance, my children will never know any gap in dental care until 1) the day they turn 25 and in college; 2) the day they turn 19 and not a full time student; 3) I lose my insurance. Twice yearly dental exams & cleaning are excellent preventative measures.

    I still have all my widom teeth. The gap in my parent's coverage (father was career Navy) wasn't really a gap – it was either because of a lack of millitary insurance (this was before Champus) or purely mercy on my parents' part to keep me away from the kid-unfriendly millitary dentists of the times.

    I thank my parents for the care they were hard-pressed to affort. But the fear I had of dentists as a child is something my children will never know.

    July 14, 2008 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Alexis

    I got all 4 of mine pulled 2 years ago – granted, I am in my mid-twenties, but I'm like you in that I was paranoid and did every Google search in the book. The horror stories frightened me. But it was completely fine. If you have a good surgeon, your age may not make that much of a difference. I found recovery to be quite easy. The worst part was that your jaw doesn't move much for a couple weeks, so it aches when you start talking more and eating foods that require more chewing. I was actually fearful I'd never be able to put my mouth around a hamburger again, but I did.

    You will be fine! Frozen peas work wonders. I never even filled the pain med prescription. Advil every 4 hours. Mashed potatoes and soup. In less than a week you'll feel back to normal.

    July 14, 2008 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Molly Sukre

      Last Saturday morning was very painful to me. I was having cavity in my molar tooth. My dentist had advised me to get extracted that teeth so that it will not cause infection. But, due to some personal work, I couldn’t attend the doctor. The pain became unbearable in the evening and I have to meet my doctor but he was out of town. It put me under a big problem to get a new appointment but using internet I came to know that http://www.healthsouk.com I came to know that we can easily get doctor’s appointment in no time. It is on online market place where doctor meets the patients instantly. And, I got an appointment and also remedy for my pain. Thanks to HealthSouk.

      April 11, 2012 at 06:59 | Report abuse |
  3. Ray Latham

    I am 55 years of age and still have my wisdom teeth. I visit my denist on a regular basis and he has never mentioned removing them.

    July 14, 2008 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. jakesdad

    I didn't have mine out until I was 33 because when I was 22 my roommate at the time got dry sockets from his and that left me terrorfied to do it for over a decade. after several years of hearing from my dentist that I needed to do it I finally caved and it actually wasn't a big deal. I think the trick is to RELIGIOUSLY follow the post-op instructions which I did out of fear of reliving what happened to David a decade earlier. honestly, coming from a person who's had appendicitis (w/open, not endoscopic removal), a kidney stone, a broken wrist, a broken collarbone & sinus surgery having the wisom teeth out is definitely at the bottom of that list pain-wise – worse than normal dental work but hardly traumatic...

    follow your post-op instructions to the letter and you'll be fine (which is good advice for any procedure that you shouldn't have to be reminded)...

    July 14, 2008 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Yelena Kats

    Dear Saundra Young,
    You are somewhat of an anomaly, but don’t worry, there are still plenty of people with wisdom teeth who are nightmares for dental hygienists and dentists. I am one such hygienist, and I have to say it can be pure torture for me and for my "wisdomed" patients to have those teeth maintained and cleaned properly.
    For whatever reason (there are many speculations, but no definite proof) our jaws are getting smaller and smaller and there is no longer any use for wisdom teeth. That’s why nowadays it has become almost like a rite of passage for young adults to have their wisdom teeth extracted. The roots are not fully formed yet, they tolerate pain better (ahh, so wonderful to be young…), and most don’t have too many responsibilities yet, so taking a few days to rest and recuperate is not a problem.
    I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed at 29. I decided to do all 4 at the same time, because after hearing all the stories, I wanted to have it done once, and suffer only once. I don’t know if it was the fact that I have a high tolerance for dental procedures (since I’m in the field myself) or I just fallowed all the do’s and don’ts after surgery, but considering the fact that two of my lower wisdom teeth needed to be excavated from the bone because they were deeply impacted and never came out, my recovery was pretty easy. Yes, there was swelling, and Yes, there was soreness and pain, but those are things I was expecting and therefore did not think much of it. 3 days went by and all was fine.
    All I remember was being extremely happy to finally be one of the “normal” people with 28 teeth.
    I’m glad you had yours removed. I’m sure your hygienist and dentist are very happy as well.

    July 14, 2008 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Greg Crotty

    I just turned fifty five along with my Wisdom teeth. I experienced teething pains in my mid twenties after which the back yard neighbors settled in with the rest of the crowd.

    July 14, 2008 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Titus Warui

    all in all your'e doing just fine, i think. I just had mine removed a few months back – i am in early 30's.
    Everyone told me of how scarily painful it would be,etc. i opted to have ALL of them 4 removed (up/down up/down) .One lower tooth was impacted and doctor had pretty much warned me it might get messy to remove- i decided to be knocked out (30 min in all) but i also didn't like the thought having two done and have to come back to face the same stress again- onceand for-all.
    The ice helped and the big swelling didnt really happen for me,just alittle. My pills were good for the pain too though i could feel it from a distance-was always there waiting for the opportunity.
    The proverbial dry socket never showed up thanks heavens-

    July 15, 2008 at 00:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rani

    I loved your story. I'm in the same boat. No dentist ever suggested I get mine removed. Now one is erupted and another maybe impacted and my dentist highly recommended I get them out before I get a painful infection. I have never had any surgery, so I am hesistant but I'm going to do it! When I told my coworkers and boss that I need to get them removed, they said: wait, you STILL have them in?!

    July 15, 2008 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Big Red

    I was 15 when I had all 4 removed at one visit.I'd had braces removed and it was recommened that they be removed so it wouldn't effect my other teeth (crowding I guess).I'd previously had 6 regular teeth pulled before the braces were put on.I had no troubles at all.All were facing up.None impacted.I arrived home and that afternoon was running around on the tennis court (ah,to be young again).My brother questioned that maybe I should be "taking it easy"–but I felt great.No pain, and I don't even remember any swelling.After my brothres comment I figured hmm–maybe best that I heed his advise...didn't want to be suffering the next day.So off I headed to bed with a big glass of Haiwian Punch!That was almost 35 years ago now.I'm now married and my husband is in his early 50's.He still has all 4.It had been suugested years ago that he think about having them removed.Now I feel the need to bring up the subject to him.

    July 15, 2008 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ldavid

    I had 2 of them removed in college after they errupted. I hadn't gone through all of the pain of orthodontia to risk having everything pushed out of alignment. Several years later my dentist I had an impacted wisdom tooth, and referred me to an oral surgeon, "just in case" it was more difficult to extract. Fortunately I had it done with just a local, it came out in 2 pieces and I rode my bike home afterwards. I did make sure to have it done on a Friday so I'd have the weekend to recover, and yes, I ate a lot of mashed potatoes.

    July 15, 2008 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. ClaudiaQ

    I'm 38 and I had all 4 removed almost 2 years ago. Due to how the left bottom tooth was impacted, the doctor had no choice but to mess with a nerve, and until now, I don't have feeling on the left bottom side of my lip and gum. Has anybody experienced this?

    July 16, 2008 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Catrina

    The surgeon should have taken them out all at once. Thats what my surgeon did. I had mine taken out last year at age 26. I still have a bit of tingliness on my left side of my lower lip but other than that Im so glad I got them taken out.

    July 16, 2008 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Walter Aiello

    When I was about 50 my bottom left wisdom tooth let me know in no uncertain terms that it was ready to leave the restrictive confines of my lower jaw. My dentist pulled it out, piece by piece, with great difficulty. That evening I boarded a plane bound from Edmonton to Arizona where I presented a talk at a conference. The procedure did not affect my activities at all. A short while after my return to Edmonton the top left wisdom tooth was pulled in a very smooth process.

    I am now 65 and my remaining two wisdom teeth are still in my mouth, and do not (yet) pose any problems.

    July 18, 2008 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. C

    I'm in my 20's, and have three of my wisdom teeth, with no plans to have any removed. All three have grown in straight, and I'm one of those weird people with enough gum room for them. Keeping them clean doesn't present an issue, according to my hygienist.

    The fourth was removed when I was 19, as it came in at a weird angle, and I didn't want to have it corrected. It was allowed to surface, which made the extraction a lot like extracting normal teeth. In fact, having an ingrown toenail removed was a lot worse.

    July 18, 2008 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Justine

    I just had my wisdom teeth extracted a few months ago (I am 38). They only began showing up on my dental xrays after I turned 30 (an orthodontist told my mother that I may not even get any when I was about 12). Luckily for me, I only had 2 upper ones but they were both severely impacted. (And trust me, when I would tell people that I only had 2 wisdom teeth, they looked at me like I was a freak!) I have a tiny mouth and so even having cavities filled in my upper back teeth was an ordeal. Like you I heard all the scary stories and so put off having them extracted, literally, for years until well after they had begun erupting.
    Finally, what drove me to have them extracted was hearing that the oral surgeon (whom I only heard positive stories about) was leaving my dental practice. So I took the plunge and made the appointment. Even though the oral surgeon said I would be fine with novocaine, I insisted on having laughing gas and was so nervous I was trembling. I also told the oral surgeon "to numb me up good". Well, he did... and the process was a total anti-climax – both teeth literally just popped out within a few minutes of each other! I overheard him tell his assistant I was very lucky as the roots were still fused or something like that... whatever, I'm just glad it was over very quickly. I didn't need (and wasn't given prescription painkiller) as I didn't have much pain afterwards, and agree with fellow bloggers that it is important to follow the post-extraction instructions to the letter.
    I have since heard even worse stories from my own sister who didn't get enough novocaine and felt everything they did, my friend who woke up in the middle of her surgery, plus even my own father who also had his wisdom teeth extracted in his mid-thirties... the latter saying it was one of the worst experiences he has ever had!
    So, I feel extremely fortunate.. and glad it's just a memory.

    July 18, 2008 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Pam

    I'll be 38 in a couple of months and my first wisdom tooth is just now pushing through the surface of my gum. I talked to my dentist about having them all removed when I was in my late 20s because they are at an odd angle and pushing against my other teeth. He said that they didn't need to be removed "at my age" unless I was in pain. So far there's no pain, thank goodness, but I do think I should probably have them removed.

    July 19, 2008 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kathy

    I am 54 and still have one wisdow tooth on the bottom. I got 2 extracted at 19 with no problems. An impacted one was extracted shortly after. The worst pain I ever had aside from childbirth. The tooth that remains does not bother me and after the impacted tooth experience I refused to get it taken out.

    July 19, 2008 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. LNPress

    I just got mine out at 39!

    July 19, 2008 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Terry

    I had my wisdon teeth removed when I was 25 , the two top ones were partially in and the bottom ones weren't showing. What I do regret now that I'm 49 is that the oral surgeon suggested that I have orthodontic work then because my teeth would move because of the space it caused, I laughed at him, because I could not afford it. Turns out he was right, about 2 years ago my two front teelth started to seperate and now one of them is very crooked and is starting to overlap another. In hindsight , I think maybe I should have left the top ones that had already partially came in and maybe I wouldn't have this problem today, looks like I'd better dig up some dough now to try to correct it!

    July 20, 2008 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jen

    I'm 22. I have three wisdom teeth but the fourth hasn't even broken the surface yet.I can feel it through my gums and it doesn't seem to be on a weird angle or anything. I havn't been to the dentist in awhile, but when I started getting them at 18 he said I had enough room and shouldn't have any problems with it. Do you think the tooth is impacted? I'm starting to worry because I've been having pain in my ear and my throat on that side and I can't afford to go to the dentist right now,

    July 20, 2008 at 19:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. JJC

    I don't think you're alone. I am 23 and my dentist doesn't even think I HAVE wisdom teeth. My mom didn't get hers in until she was about 35 – fortunately she didn't need them removed. I have been told however, that if mine ever decide to appear, I will have to have them pulled. Something I am not looking forward to. I have already decided I want numbing shots AND gas.

    July 22, 2008 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Marta

    I'm 53 and have all my wisdom teeth. Everybody is different. I don't have one single wrinkle on my face. My 12 year old son has a number of baby teeth still. "Late blooming" runs in my family. Thanks Marta

    July 23, 2008 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Willow, Iowa

    I had the left side wisdom teeth removed when I was 17. And the right side wisdom teeth removed six months later. the left side hurt terribly, swelled up, bruised, etc. the right side never hurt, never swelled and never bruised.

    I have TMJ and it is the left side that seems to go out of whack when I chew (hence the popping when I eat). I have actually had my jaw stick in the open bite position for a few minutes. None of this is great fun.

    But those wisdom teeth are not much fun, either way. My wisdom teeth were coming in facing forward toward my face. They would have pushed all of my teeth out of alignment coming in. Ick.

    July 26, 2008 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Amanda

    I was 14 when I got my FIVE wisdom teeth removed. I was one of the unfortunate ones who got dry sockets. The funny thing was that my mom didn't believe me, and she kept telling me to stop whining. Oh boy did she feel bad when she found out that I actually did have dry sockets.

    July 26, 2008 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. shelly

    I am 22 and recently i realize my upper wisdom teeth are not growing straight but more towards the jaw. Resulting in my jaw being bite on by my wisdom teeth somtimes. The lower bottom ones are still not yet out. Which for years now, they hurt sometimes and swell. But always go away. I didnt expect the upper ones to pop before the lower. Thats what happen. They came out with little pain and swelling but it was bearable. Now to the far back where the lower and upper jaw meets becomes painful with a blister. I now am getting worried. Any suggestion anyone ?

    August 14, 2008 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Celia

    I am 45. My dentist last year and this year, recomended that I have my wisdom teeth taken out, oddly enough, my body produced only 3 wisdom teeth... I was sent to an oral surgeon who basically talked me out of getting the bottom two that are fully impacted, removed. He was surprised that my dentist sent me there to have them removed (inasmuch as I was not having any problems with the bottom two). The one on the top rights had emerged somewhat sideways – growing into my cheek.. and was difficult to keep clean and tidy.... So, I was to have all 3 removed, but walked out of the office having only one removed. The surgeon did mention at my age, I could loose feeling in my face and lower lip due to the nerve which was sitting there.. Now I'm home and wondering what was the best thing to do? Should I have said take the bottom two out as well? I have gotton so many mixed messages... still uncertain.

    September 21, 2008 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Mercedes

    I am 39 and just got my 2 right taken out on Saturday. It was not a fun experience. The dentist recommended extracting all 4 at the same time. The bottom one was impacted and infected and had to come out quickly. I chose to have the right side done first and come back for the left. I can't afford to stay home that long at one time. In all, I was pretty fortunate. The bottom didn't want to come out so he had to twist and yank his heart out. I had about 12 lidocaine injections to numb me due to the infection, but the swelling went down the next day. The pain has subsided over the last couple of days, and not being able to open my mouth fully is the most annoying part of it all.

    Now, to muster up enough strength to do it all over again!

    December 9, 2008 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Victoria

    I'm 17 and just had 4 FULLY grown wisdom teeth pulled. Bottom two were impacted. I have never had such a bad experience in my life and wish I had only had the 2 impacted ones removed. I'm on day 4 and the first two days I was not myself from anesthesia and vicoden. I attacked people and constantly cried. I'm now possibly going to jail or a psych unit for that because my family says what I'm going through and medicine is not an excuse. I got punched in my mouth 8 hours after surgery and one side the stitches got torn out. I now have not been able to eat but 3 times in 3 days. All I can eat is pudding. I'm starving! I have only slept about 9 hours in 3 nights. I can't even close my mouth because my cheeks are so swollen they are inbetween my bite on both sides. My face is so swollen my eyes are becoming pressured. I have huge bruises. I am almost positive I have dry sockets in the two bottom teeth. Constant head ache and nausea. Constant pain in my jaw, sockets, and neck. I want this all to be over! And the dentist says my experience is normal! I pray all of you who are getting or have had this procedure done do not have these issues!

    February 20, 2010 at 02:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Pol

    i live in Indianapolis and have 3 wisdom teeth. I brush my teeth 2 times a day, rinse mouth and visit my denist regular (his site is http://www.ezdentalanddentures.com), and i have no problems with them!

    May 31, 2010 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Aisha

    I have 3 wisdom teeth. My one at the top left appears and disappears (really weird) every now and then. The two on the bottom are turned on their sides and are facing my other teeth. From the x-ray I was shown years ago, they appear to be full grown, just impacted. The dentist was quite surprised they weren't causing me any discomfort. I'm 31 and still have no problems with them. I brush (thoroughly) daily and try to remember to floss. I DO rinse my mouth after meals. But so far, so good. My dentist said that I can wait until they begin to bother before extracting b/c that's my only problem. No cavities, etc. So I wait.

    June 28, 2010 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. wisdom teeth

    It is very painful when your ,a href="http://www.yourwisdomteeth.com/cost-of-wisdom-teeth-removal/">wisdom teeth will start to appear, but you just have to bear the pain. it is part of growing up. It is in the adult stage that this wisdom teeth will come out.

    January 20, 2012 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. wisdom teeth

    It is very painful when your wisdom teeth will start to appear, but you just have to bear the pain. it is part of growing up. It is in the adult stage that this wisdom teeth will come out.

    January 20, 2012 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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  34. Molly Sukre

    I am having my wisdom teeth removed. Is there a way to check references? Is there a certification I need to make sure he has? What is my risk of losing feeling in my face?one of my friend suggest me to it is very easy now you can book you appointment online on http://www.healthsouk.com as apatient and you can directly meet doctor at your place and on your convienience time is this a good option for me?

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  36. Angi Parker

    I'm 38, and have to have mine out next week. I'm nervous, but they have started to give me problems, so I'm braving it, and having all four wisdom teeth removed at once (much to my dentist's delight). I've been told for years that they needed to come out, but I did not see the necessity of it, not until I began to have issues.
    My oral surgeon has recommended all four at one time, for convenience and also for cost. Most dental insurance policies will cover a limited amount of surgery charges before they cap out for the year. I checked my policy and sure enough, our yearly limit is $1500. If there are some reading this and contemplating a double surgery method, check with your insurance first to see what your out of pocket expenses will be.

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  37. Victoria

    Has anyone else heard about and/or experienced wisdom teeth removal changing your face? I would be extremely cautious regarding this procedure as I had all 4 out at the age of just 19, 5ears ago, and since then my jaw has narrowed and my face has lost fullness. I have even been looking into getting dental implants to correct this. No one in Great Britain and most of Europe get them removed unless they are diseased, as recent research shows this is a mostly unnecessary procedure. I wish I'd listened to my intuition as a 19 year old, as it would tell you that nature gave us these teeth for a reason; and, in my opinion at least, humans are healthier and more attractive when we don't mess with what nature gave us.

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