How wise are you about wisdom teeth? You may not know much about these mysterious molars that grow in the very back of the mouth - either because they're so far back there or because you've had yours removed already.

What are wisdom teeth? Wisdom teeth - also called third molars - are the very last adult teeth we grow in, usually late in our teens or early 20s. Most people will have 4 wisdom teeth in all - 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom.

Why are wisdom teeth often removed? Wisdom teeth come in late and sometimes the mouth doesn't have room for them, so they can crowd other teeth and cause pain. They are also hard to clean, which puts them at higher risk for tooth decay and gum disease than other teeth. And if they partially erupt above the gums, a flap of gum tissue can develop that traps food and bacteria and becomes an infection risk. If a wisdom tooth does not have enough space to grow normally, it will become stuck beneath the gum, bone, or another tooth. This is called an impacted tooth, and it can cause pain, tooth decay, gum disease, and lead to infection or a cyst that requires surgery.

How do you know if you have an impacted wisdom tooth? Symptoms of an impacted wisdom tooth include pain, headaches, bad breath and unpleasant taste in the mouth. Your gums may become red, swollen, and tender, or even bleed. The jaw may also swell.

When should wisdom teeth be removed? It is estimated that 85% of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be removed. Extraction often becomes necessary if a wisdom tooth has become impacted. Sometimes, as a precautionary measure, wisdom teeth are removed to prevent overgrowth of the tooth's roots, which can make it more difficult to remove in the future. Early removal of wisdom teeth could also lead to a less complicated recovery process.

How are wisdom teeth removed? Wisdom teeth are sometimes removed by a general dentist, but in many cases, removal must be done by a dental surgeon - called oral and maxillofacial surgeons - who is specially trained in this type of extraction. If you will have your wisdom teeth removed, you can expect to be put under general or local anesthesia or to be given an intravenous sedative. The dental surgeon or dentist makes an incision in the gums to allow them to remove the tooth. The wound is stitched up and any empty space - called a socket - is filled with gauze.

What happens after wisdom teeth are removed? After having wisdom teeth extracted, it is common to experience mild discomfort and swelling. You may be prescribed a pain medication to help you get through the pain, and cold compresses may help to ease the swelling. You will likely be advised to eat soft, easy-to-eat foods until you've fully recovered. Contact your dentist if you develop worsening pain at the site of the extraction, since this can be a sign of infection in the area or of dry socket, which is caused when the blood clot that heals over the wound comes off and exposes the bone beneath.