Everything You Need to Know about Wisdom Teeth Extraction
Wisdom teeth extraction isn’t like other routine dental procedures where you can get right back to your regular activities afterwards. It is a procedure that requires a recovery period and strict aftercare instructions.
For this reason, it’s important to know what to expect both during the extraction and after you leave the dentist.
With that being said, here’s a guide to wisdom teeth removal, including why you may need this treatment, and how to take care of yourself following surgery.
What Are Wisdom Teeth and Why Do We Have Them?
Wisdom teeth are the extra molars that grow in the back of the mouth. These teeth grow in long after the rest of our adult teeth, usually in our late teens or early twenties.
We have wisdom teeth because our ancient ancestors required these teeth to grind and chew coarse foods from hunting and gathering—such as raw meat, roots, and plants.
Along with having a third set of molars, our ancestors also had larger jaws with enough room to support these extra teeth.
So, Why Do They Need to Be Removed?
Due to evolution and our change in diet, our jaws have become smaller since the prehistoric days of hunting and gathering. Nowadays, our foods are softer and we use utensils to cut our food, so we no longer require large jaws and extra molars to eat tough food.
Though wisdom teeth still grow in for many people, there is no longer space for these extra molars in our smaller jaws. And when wisdom teeth don’t have enough space to break through the gums, they become impacted and require removal. Otherwise, they risk damaging the adjacent teeth, jaw, and nerves, and can cause severe pain.
What Happens If They Are Not Removed?
Sometimes, impacted wisdom teeth will cause swelling in the back of the mouth, pain while chewing, and limited jaw mobility. But even if you don’t feel any pain, leaving in your impacted wisdom teeth can still pose the risk of infection, gum disease, tooth decay, cysts, tumours, lesions, and damage to the adjacent teeth. And if any of these problems are ignored, they could worsen and become life-threatening.
When Should They Be Extracted?
Ideally, patients will get their wisdom teeth extracted in their teens or early twenties when the roots haven’t fully developed. As people get older, their roots continue to grow, and teeth reposition. Therefore, it can be more difficult to extract wisdom teeth in adults who are in their thirties and forties. There are also more risks involved and longer recovery times as people get older.
And when scheduling you appointment, keep in mind that best time to have this surgery is right before scheduled time off work or school, such as before a vacation or summer break.
How Do I Know If They Need to Be Removed?
Your dentist will tell you if you need your wisdom teeth removed based on an examination and x-rays. If you have impacted wisdom teeth—they don’t have enough space to erupt through the gum properly and they are blocked by another tooth—your dentist will recommend wisdom teeth extraction.
How to Prepare for Wisdom Teeth Extraction
Arrange for Someone to Drive You Home
Since you will be groggy after the procedure, you will be safer having a friend or a relative drive you home. They can also help fill your prescription for pain medication on your way home.
Wear Comfortable, Loose-Fitting Clothes
Wear clothes you’ll be comfortable in for the entire day and night (in case you fall asleep in them). Your sleeves should also be loose enough to roll up for the IV sedation, if necessary.
Avoid Alcohol & Drugs
Since you will be receiving anesthesia and sedation during your wisdom teeth extraction, avoid alcohol and drugs before and after surgery since these can interfere with your medications along with your ability to heal.
Ask Lots of Questions
Ask as many questions as you need about the procedure, including what to expect before, during, and after your surgery, along with aftercare instructions.
How Does the Extraction Process Work?
The extraction process will depend on how deep the wisdom tooth is embedded in the gum. If the tooth has already erupted, your dentist will perform a simple extraction. They will numb your gums, loosen the tooth with a dental elevator, and pull out the tooth with dental forceps. They will then clean the area and pack it with gauze.
If your wisdom tooth is still below the gum line, they will perform a surgical extraction. You will be sedated during the surgery, so you will feel sleepy and won’t feel pain or remember much of the procedure.
Your dentist or oral surgeon will cut open the gum, cut the tooth bone to get to the root, and may even cut the tooth into pieces for easier removal.
Will It Hurt?
During the extraction procedure, you won’t feel any pain because your dentist will use anesthesia. And following the surgery, you will be prescribed a medication to alleviate pain and minimize discomfort while you recover.
What Is the Recovery Process Like?
It takes about two weeks to a month to fully recover from the surgery. However, most patients are able to get back to their daily routines about a week after the surgery.
During the first week, you will need to rest, and your cheeks will be puffy due to swelling from the surgery. The swelling tends to peak two to three days after surgery and will go away after a week. You may also notice some bruising after a few days, along with intermittent bleeding from the incision sites.
Post Extraction Dos and Don’ts
Follow your dentist’s instructions for pain management. If you had a simple extraction, your dentist might only recommend taking ibuprofen to help alleviate pain. But if you had a surgical extraction, they would likely prescribe pain medication. Also remember not drink any alcohol while taking medication.
Following the surgery, gauze will be placed in your mouth to help stop the bleeding. You should keep this gauze in with your mouth closed for as long as your dentist recommends.
It usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the bleeding to stop. But they might recommend that you keep the gauze in for a bit longer.
Get as much rest as possible during the first week. Set up a comfortable area for you to rest and spend your days without needing to go far.
Don’t do any heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. And if you are taking narcotics for pain relief, you cannot operate any vehicles or machinery.
Eat only soft foods like yogurt, pudding, apple sauce, and smoothies, especially for the first 24 hours following surgery. But avoid using a straw for drinking or eating during your recovery since suction can loosen the blood clots and make for a more complicated and painful recovery.
For the rest of the week, you can eat soft foods like soup, mashed potatoes, pasta, and eggs. Avoid any foods that require a lot of chewing since you won’t be able to open or move your mouth very much. And consider eating cold foods to help soothe your incisions.
Keeping Your Mouth Clean
For the first 24 hours following surgery, avoid rinsing your mouth.
After that time, you can rinse with warm saltwater to clean the incision areas (and continue doing saltwater rinses until you are completely healed).
You can also brush your teeth on the second day of recovery. Just be gentle, and don’t brush or floss near the surgical site. Also, do not smoke during your recovery time, or you’ll risk slowing down the healing process and dislodging the blood clots.
To help minimize swelling and pain, keep your head elevated and hold ice packs to your cheeks and jaw during your recovery time.
Though wisdom teeth extraction is a fairly common procedure, there are still precautions and tips to follow to ensure your procedure and recovery go smoothly. So, don’t be afraid to ask your dentist questions and keep this guide in mind to help you stay informed before having your wisdom teeth removed or extracted.