Whether you’re facing it in your late teens or your older adult years, getting your wisdom teeth pulled can be annoying or even intimidating. Fortunately, this common procedure is nothing to be scared of, and it can help prevent future dental problems. Learn more about wisdom tooth extraction, including what to expect during the surgery and your recovery period.
Why You Need It
In some cases, wisdom teeth (the third molars) never develop or don’t cause any dental issues. However, many people’s wisdom teeth become impacted, meaning that they don’t have enough room to grow normally within the mouth. These impacted wisdom teeth can grow at odd angles or partially erupt from the gums. They need to be removed in order to prevent future dental problems that can result from impacted wisdom teeth, such as:
- Damage to adjacent teeth
- Damage to surrounding bone
- Cysts forming around the wisdom teeth
- Problems with orthodontic treatments used to straighten the other teeth
- Susceptibility to tooth cavities and gum disease
When the wisdom teeth are impacted, many dental professionals recommend getting them removed at a younger age if possible. Waiting too long may allow for more dental issues to develop, and older adults may have more difficulty recovering from the surgery. In addition, the roots are not completely formed yet and the surrounding bone is softer when the patient is younger, making it easier to remove the teeth.
What To Expect
During the surgery, patients are generally given either a sedation anesthesia (which causes you to sleep through the procedure) or a local anesthesia (which numbs the jaw and the mouth). In either case, it’s a good idea to arrange for someone else to drive you home after the procedure in case your anesthesia has not completely worn off.
Once the anesthesia has taken effect, the dentist will begin removing the gum tissue covering the wisdom teeth. Impacted teeth are often fully or partially covered in bone, which needs to be drilled through in order to get them out. Then, the dentist uses surgical instruments to loosen each tooth from connective tissue in the tooth socket. Once the wisdom teeth are out, stitches may be applied if necessary.
Though the procedure itself is painless, many people experience some discomfort during their recovery period. Prescription medications are prescribed in order to alleviate any pain resulting from the surgery and gauze pads are used to soak up any blood coming from the gums. Don’t smoke for at least 24 hours after your procedure. Drink lots of water (without using a straw) and eat only soft foods for the first 24 hours after the surgery. Your dentist may also recommend that you rinse your mouth with warm salt water every few hours.
Most dentists advise that patients rest for at least 2 days after their wisdom tooth extraction. That includes staying home from work or school. Many people feel well enough to return to their normal activities about 48 hours after the surgery. In most cases, the discomfort after having wisdom teeth pulled is minor as long as the patient follows their medication and rest instructions from the doctor.
Side Effects and Risks
The most common side effect of wisdom tooth extraction is swelling. Almost all patients suffer from swollen cheeks after the surgery. This can be alleviated by keeping the head elevated and applying ice packs to the outside of the cheeks as necessary. Some stiffness or bruising in the face may also occur, but these symptoms usually disappear completely within a week or so.
During the first 24 hours, your gums may continue to bleed. This can be soaked up with gauze pads provided by your dentist. If you continue to bleed more than 24 hours after the surgery, contact your dentist for further instruction.
Wisdom teeth extractions are very common and rarely result in serious complications. Some risks of the procedure include:
- Damage to the sinuses
- Nerve damage
- Weakening of the lower jawbone
- Infection in the tooth socket
- Exposure of bone when the post-surgical blood clot is dislodged from the tooth socket
Keep in mind that some dental specialists recommend that impacted wisdom teeth be left alone. These professionals believe that, unless the wisdom teeth are causing problems, the benefits of wisdom tooth extraction do not outweigh the expense and risks of the procedure. This is something you should discuss with your dentist before deciding to have your wisdom teeth removed.