You have been to the dentist and have been told that it is time for your wisdom teeth to come out. Wondering what that means and what to expect? Read on and we will give you a rundown from start to finish regarding wisdom teeth removal.
Why Remove Them?
Wisdom teeth used to be vital to the chewing process when human diets consisted of courser grains and harder to chew foods. Nowadays, however, they are essentially an extra pair of teeth that do not have much use. Your molars are more than enough to handle today’s foods.
Your wisdom teeth can grow in one of two ways: like regular teeth or impacted. We will leave regular growth alone for the moment but will come back to it after we discuss the more serious issue of impacted teeth caused by wisdom teeth crowding the mouth.
What Does “Impacted”Mean?
Impacted wisdom teeth lie horizontally (or at an angle) instead of vertically like the other teeth, and often they do not emerge from the gum line. Essentially, they are growing sideways instead of up. This occurs because they are actually third molars and there just is not room in your mouth for another set of teeth.
When you picture it, you can see how many problems this can cause. If the teeth never emerge from the gums, they can impact your molars (see how that works?), which could cause extreme pain. It could also cause your other teeth to become more crowded, which is a whole other can of worms.
If the teeth partially emerge from the gums but do not fully erupt, they can become traps for food.In turn, it will cause bacteria to accumulate and plaque to form. Gingivitis and periodontitis (gum disease) are diseases that are caused by plaque build-up and you do not want to have to deal with those.
Now, if your wisdom teeth are growing in normally, you do not absolutely have to have them removed. However, most dentists will recommend that you do. Why? Because even growing in straight, there could still be issues.
Think about how hard it is to clean your back teeth. Now imagine another set behind your molars. They will be even harder to get to, right? And we already know what happens if you do not clean your teeth properly.
It should be apparent by now that straight or impacted, your wisdom teeth need to come out.
Once the decision is made, your dentist or oral surgeon will discuss your level of comfort and anxiety, and you will both come to a decision about what type of sedation will be used. There are several different types of anesthetic used in oral surgery. You can read about them here.
After the chosen sedation has taken effect, the gums around the wisdom teeth will be numbed with a local anesthetic.
Prior to your surgery date, your dentist should have taken X-rays of the wisdom teeth (and surrounding teeth). If any further X-rays are needed, they will be taken after the sedation and numbing has taken effect.
We will spare you the full details of the surgery—you already know that the removal of wisdom teeth is never easy to talk about. What you need to know is that the teeth will be extracted during this time. The length of surgery depends on the positioning of the teeth, including the angle and how deep they are. If you are younger, it could take a shorter time as well.
In most cases, the surgery will require stitches to close the gum area where the teeth were. It is extremely important to follow the post-operative instructions you will receive to prevent further complications.
What to Expect Post-Surgery
Your dentist will give you information about what to expect post-surgery. It will probably also include a list of dos and don’ts. However, you will most likely need to place a gauze pad over the surgical site for around 30 minutes after the operation. During the healing process, you may have to take pain medication and keep an eye out for any pain and swelling, as well as obvious signs of infection.
You should come out of the heavier sedation rather quickly once the surgery is complete. Depending on how you react to the anesthetic, you may be groggy for awhile, so it might be a good idea to have someone with you who can drive you home.
The local anesthetic will take a little bit longer to wear off. During this time, your lips and tongue will be numb and feel pretty strange. Your speech will be slurred, and it will feel like you don’t have part of your mouth. Don’t worry, it will wear off over a couple of hours.
You can reasonably expect 2–3 days of swelling and discomfort or pain after your surgery. During this time, you can use over the counter medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for the pain. If you received a prescription for pain medicine from your dentist, make sure to take it as directed.
You can also use ice packs to keep the swelling down for the first 24–36 hours. If you are still experiencing discomfort after two days, you can use moist heat on your jaw. Roughly 24 hours after your surgery, you can open and close your mouth gently to exercise the muscles in your jaw.
Eating and Brushing
You probably will not feel like eating too much the first day as you recover from the anesthesia. Your dentist will give you a list of items that will be okay to eat when you feel like it. These will be mostly soft foods like soup or rice. Avoid any hard or crunchy foods until you have been cleared by your dentist.
You can—and should—drink plenty of fluids. However, do not drink them through a straw. The suction can actually loosen blood clots that are helping to heal your gums. Sip drinks slowly.
You can brush your teeth starting the second day after your surgery but be sure to do so gently. Avoid the area in the back of your mouth as much as possible, so you do not disturb the stitches. It is really like having surgery anywhere else on your body; you need to make sure the area remains as clean as possible.
If your pain does not diminish within the first 2–3 days, call your dentist immediately. Your follow up appointment will probably be for 1–2 weeks after the surgery, at which time the dentist will evaluate the healing. If you have followed all of the instructions, you should be cleared and back to normal.
Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?
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