This post was originally published on August 15, 2017 and updated on June 26, 2019.
At Southtowns Dental, we understand that the thought of wisdom tooth extraction surgery can be scary. On the flip-side, we also understand why it is necessary to make proactive decisions now that could prevent your wisdom teeth from causing much larger problems later in life.
We are here to help you understand your dental health and make the right decision about if and when to have oral surgery.
The facts about wisdom tooth extraction surgery
Did you know the average person’s mouth can only accommodate 28 teeth? By age 18, most people will develop an additional four molars, also commonly referred to as wisdom teeth. The reason they come so much later than other adult teeth remains a mystery, but unfortunately, by the time they arrive, most people don’t have enough room in their jawbones for the teeth to come in straight.
When space is limited, your wisdom teeth can grow in crooked or become impacted against your back molars. This can cause damage to those molars and, if your wisdom teeth are not removed, it can also shift other teeth in your mouth.
Wisdom teeth alone can undo years of work—and thousands of dollars—spent on orthodontics procedures.
In addition to the superficial reasons, there are legitimate health risks to living with impacted wisdom teeth. They are more difficult to clean and thus are more subject to decay than regular teeth. Irritation and inflammation are common, which can lead to gum disease. And cysts can form as a result of inflammation, causing damage to your jawbone, teeth, and facial nerves.
When is wisdom tooth extraction necessary?
First, it’s important to note that people benefit from having their wisdom teeth removed before symptoms start. Once you are experiencing the common symptoms related to impacted wisdom teeth, the damage has already begun.
The longer you wait into adulthood, the more difficult the extraction can be and the more damage the impacted teeth have likely caused.
All of that said, if you are experiencing the following symptoms, they may be related to wisdom teeth:
- Pain or swelling in the corners of your mouth
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Bad breath or a funny taste in your mouth
- Tooth decay in the molars surrounding your wisdom teeth
How do I know if my wisdom teeth are impacted?
Not all wisdom teeth pierce through the gums. They can be impacted even if you don’t feel them there. Some do come in straight and do not present as much of a problem. Some grow in crooked.
There’s only one way to know for sure. Visit a dentist. A routine dental X-ray in your late teens will show whether your wisdom teeth are likely to cause problems. X-rays can be done quite quickly after a routine cleaning. Once you’ve seen whether there’s a problem, we at Southtowns Dental can help you plan for extraction that minimizes the inconveniences to daily life.
When should I have my wisdom teeth removed?
The sooner your wisdom teeth are removed, the better. As a young person, the roots haven’t had as much time to fully form, which not only makes extraction much easier but also decreases any potential complications following the surgery.
The ideal time to have them removed is when you’re still a teenager. Once your dentist has reviewed X-rays of your mouth, they will be able to decide whether you’ve got enough room to accommodate their growth or if you’ll need extraction surgery.
What happens if I don’t get my wisdom teeth removed?
Most importantly, we recommend following the advice of trained medical professionals. They understand the potential hazards you’re facing.
If you opt to go against your doctor’s advice, there are potential problems down the road. Because wisdom teeth decay at a faster rate than your other teeth, you are more likely to suffer from tooth and jaw pain later in life. If you wait until adulthood to have wisdom teeth extracted, they will be fully formed and thus much more difficult to remove. Such procedures are associated with more risks and complications.
If your doctor tells you that you need to have your wisdom teeth removed, you should probably heed their advice! We understand it isn’t a pleasant idea, but the potential effects to dental health and quality of life down the road will be far worse.
How to avoid dry socket after wisdom tooth extraction surgery
You may not be able to avoid getting your wisdom teeth pulled, but you can prevent unnecessary pain and irritation following the surgery. One of the most inconvenient dental conditions that develops after wisdom tooth extraction is dry socket.
What is wisdom tooth extraction surgery actually like?
The first thing you need to know is that wisdom tooth extraction is an extremely common dental procedure – something we do at Southtowns Dental on a regular basis. Our doctors are trained to do it, they’re very used to doing it, and while we understand that for you it’s not an everyday occurrence, it is for us.
Here’s a look at our process.
1. On your first visit, you’ll meet with a doctor for a consultation. We’ll review your X-ray and thoroughly explain the surgical process, answering any questions you have about the procedure.
2. From there, we will book a surgery date that works best for your schedule. Patients typically require only one day off of work or school during recovery. We understand convenience is a factor, so we work with you to schedule a date far enough in advance, allowing you to make appropriate arrangements
3. The most common procedure involves a local anesthetic, where you remain conscious but sedated using nitrous oxide (or “laughing gas”). The gas relaxes you so the doctors can complete the surgery with minimal movements on the patient end. Your mouth is also numbed, so you cannot feel any pain. The entire surgery typically takes less than an hour.
What about recovery?
Here’s what you can expect following the procedure:
- For starters, you’re going to need to arrange for a ride home – you definitely shouldn’t drive following the procedure, due to the after effects of the nitrous oxide.
- Patients will leave the office biting down on gauze to control the bleeding. This is entirely normal, though we understand it can be a scary thought. Within 30–45 minutes after the surgery, clots form and the bleeding subsides. We’ll give you additional gauze to swap out should you need more. The bleeding process is actually essential for a smooth recovery. Without the blood to form clots, healing can’t begin. Avoid the urge to spit or rinse your mouth out for the first 24 hours.
- For the first 48 hours, you should be on a liquid diet. Soup broths and protein shakes are the most common alternatives to solid food. An important note: As with any dental surgery, avoid using straws to suck in liquid. It puts additional stress on the affected areas, can cause the clotted blood to burst, may cause dry socket, and result in additional bleeding and longer recovery time.
- As for when you return to solid food, that’s essentially up to you. Once your mouth feels less tender, you can switch to softer foods like mashed potatoes, yogurt, and bananas. Expect to remain more or less on a soft food diet for about a week following the surgery. Avoiding chewy foods will ensure a smoother and quicker recovery time.
What you can and can't eat following wisdom tooth removal
It is possible to have some variety in your diet and even enjoy a few meals you love after your wisdom tooth removal. To help you with your grocery list, we’ve compiled this list of foods you should avoid as well as some that are completely safe and full of all the vitamins and nutrients you need for a speedy recovery.
What about pain medication?
Typically, your doctor will give you instructions for over-the-counter painkillers like Advil or Tylenol, which are taken every six hours until the pain subsides on its own. Depending on the type of surgery you’ve had, some patients will be prescribed a two- or three-day course of prescription painkillers, though this is not standard practice.
How much does wisdom tooth removal cost and will my dental insurance cover the procedure?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. There are a number of different factors that can affect the total cost of wisdom tooth extractions. Dental insurance plans also vary widely in what percentage of oral surgery they cover and how high the deductible is for such procedures.
The best answer is to consult with a doctor from Southtowns Dental and we can help you work through the particulars of your insurance coverage and any individual responsibility.
Our goal is to make the process of wisdom tooth extraction as easy and painless as possible. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out and someone from our staff will personally answer your questions and make sure you’re as comfortable as possible with all of the information before deciding if now is the right time for your wisdom tooth extraction.
Schedule a Free, No Obligation Consultation
At Southtowns Dental, our consultations are always free, giving you a chance to tour our office, meet our team, and discuss any concerns you may have about wisdom tooth extraction surgery or any other oral surgery.