Wisdom teeth, also called third molars, usually do not push through the gum until 17 – 21 years of age.

Most people have four wisdom teeth, however it is very common to have less.  Some wisdom teeth either erupt easily or remain buried and cause no problem, however others may cause severe problems and require removal.

Problems caused by wisdom teeth


If the jaw does not have enough room for the wisdom teeth to come through the bone and gums, it may become “impacted”.  The wisdom tooth can also push nearby teeth out of their correct position.



This is one of the most common and significant problems associated with wisdom teeth. Infection may develop when wisdom teeth only partially erupt. Food and bacteria may get caught underneath a flap of gum around the tooth, causing infection. If this remains, the gum becomes irritated, leading to “pericoronitis”. If the pericoronitis is severe, the swelling and infection may cause jaw stiffness and extend beyond the jaw to the cheeks and neck.


Pressure form the wisdom tooth may cause pain from the tooth next to it. Pain may also be caused from infection or stiffness in the jaw.


If a wisdom tooth in not removed, a fluid filled sac, or cyst, can form around the tooth and may displace the tooth.  The cyst can destroy teeth, gum and bone and is fairly common around unerupted teeth of adults.

Resorption cavity

An impacted wisdom tooth can push against the tooth in front of it for many years.  This may cause a resorption cavity where the wisdom tooth contacts the next molar. This often leads to serious damage to both teeth and may result in removal of both teeth.


Incorrectly positioned wisdom teeth and upper wisdom teeth often rub against the cheek or lead to cheek biting, resulting in ulcers.

Treatment of infection

  • Your dentist may gently clean the area. Warm salt water or an antibacterial mouth rinse may also be used at home.
  • Antibiotics may be required to suppress infection before the tooth can safely be removed.
  • Infection of a lower wisdom tooth may be made worse by the top wisdom tooth biting down on the overlying gum.
  • After clinical and x-ray assessment, your dentist will discuss with you options for extraction and sedation, including local anaesthesia, intra-venous sedation or general anaesthetic.
  • Depending on the complexity of removal and the anatomy of your teeth and jaw, this may be able to be done in the surgery, or referred to a specialist oral surgeon for removal in hospital.
  • For all tooth extractions, risks and complications of treatment will be explained thoroughly, as well as post-operative care.


Your dentists will assess the presence and position of your wisdom teeth, and may need a special x-ray to aid diagnosis.
If you suffer recurrent gum infection, or the teeth are difficult to access to keep clean, then it is usually advised to have them removed.