Approximately 5 million Americans
undergo the surgical removal of one or more wisdom teeth annually. These teeth commonly begin to grow or become problematic between the late teens and early twenties. So what can you expect from the procedure? What post-procedure complications may arise? What kind of post-care is necessary to help ensure a smooth recovery?
Why Do We Need To Lose These Teeth?
Common reasons for wisdom teeth removal are:
- An impacted tooth (one that is partially trapped in the gums or blocked by another tooth and can’t fully erupt through) can lead to infections if food gets trapped in the area.
- Wisdom teeth that are growing crooked or growing into another tooth.
- Or teeth that are crowding the mouth and misaligning other teeth.
How Will the Procedure Go Down?
Your dentist or oral surgeon will administer one of the following methods of sedation:
- Nitrous oxide
- Conscious sedation
- General anesthetic
Your surgeon will then proceed to open up the gums surrounded the target teeth, exposing the tooth and bone beneath. He or she will then divide the teeth into sections
and remove them, finishing the procedure by cleaning out the site and stitching the area closed to heal.
What Post-Surgical Complications Can Arise?
Potential post-surgical risks of wisdom tooth extraction include:
- An infection may occur in the extraction site, marked by a white or yellow discharge, temperature and pain and swelling.
- Dry socket – happens when the blood clot that is forming to help protect and heal the site becomes dislodged, leaving the bone exposed. This condition can be very painful, sometimes causing throbbing up the jaw or even around the ear, it can also cause a bad taste or smell.
- Nerve problems – a rare complication of wisdom tooth extraction is temporary or permanent nerve damage that may cause such symptoms as facial pain, tingling or numbness.
- Pieces of tooth left behind – in rare instances, a small piece of tooth may have been left in the extraction site. Sometimes these small parts work themselves out, but sometimes a dentist may need to reopen and remove a leftover piece of tooth.
- Healing problems for those with health issues – people with chronic health or immunocompromising conditions may heal much slower with more pain, swelling or bleeding than others.
What is Recovery Like?
Here are some tips that may help ease recovery
- Keep your gauze in place until you get home, take all medications (such as antibiotics or NSAIDs) as prescribed.
- Don’t engage in exercise the first couple days after surgery, then start easing back into activity.
- Keep the mouth very clean in the weeks following surgery, but don’t do saltwater rinsing until the day after surgery, then you can proceed to do so several times daily (very gently).
- Don’t root around at the extraction sites with your tongue as you may complicate healing.
- Avoid smoking, drinking from straws or aggressive mouth swishing for the first few days after surgery, as all of these can contribute to dry socket.
- Use ice packs in the days following surgery to keep swelling down (be careful not to leave the packs on too long).
- A tea bag will also work well to calm bleeding, as the tannic acid can help a clot to form.
When to Revisit the Dentist?
As with any invasive surgical procedure, some degree of pain
is to be expected in the days or weeks following wisdom teeth extraction, but if you are experiencing more pain as time goes on, swelling, fever or discharge, be sure to visit your dentist or a doctor ASAP. It is always better to be safe than sorry!
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