There are currently two schools of thought regarding wisdom tooth extraction. Some dentists believe an impacted wisdom tooth should be removed even if it is asymptomatic to prevent future problems. Others believe that the risks of surgery to the patient are not worth it as long as the tooth is not causing any discernible issues.
However, everyone is in agreement that an impacted wisdom tooth that is causing problems or producing symptoms requires removal. Patients may feel nervous about having a wisdom tooth extraction performed, but knowing what to expect from the procedure itself, as well as the recovery thereafter, may help.
What to expect from the wisdom tooth extraction procedure
The dentist or oral surgeon will provide instructions about what specifically needs to be done before and after the procedure. What follows is just a general overview of what is likely to happen.
This will probably occur at a preoperative appointment prior to the day of surgery, since the type of anesthesia received affects which preoperative instructions the surgeon will provide. It is common for an oral surgeon to perform an extraction under general anesthesia or sedation. The former causes the patient to totally lose consciousness, while the latter promotes relaxation and sleepiness. Sedation may be achieved intravenously or with oral medication.
The patient may also receive local anesthesia, which numbs only the surgical site, either by itself or in combination with one of the other forms of anesthesia.
If general anesthesia or sedation is used, the oral surgeon will probably require that the patient arrange for someone to drive them home from the clinic after the wisdom tooth extraction. The patient may also have to refrain from eating or drinking anything for eight to 12 hours prior to the procedure.
The dentist or surgeon may require new x-rays on the day of the procedure. The patient may or may not be conscious for this.
The type of anesthesia the patient and surgical team have agreed on will be administered either before or after taking new x-rays.
Bone and tissue removal
The tooth is likely still embedded in the jawbone and/or covered with gum tissue. These materials must be removed before extraction can take place.
Tooth loosening, sectioning and removal
If any connective tissue remains in the tooth socket, it must be loosened before the tooth can be removed. To prevent the tooth from breaking, the dentist sometimes cuts it into sections before removing it. Extraction takes place using specially designed surgical instruments to ensure it is removed completely.
What happens during recovery
Complete healing after a wisdom tooth extraction can take several weeks. Mild discomfort and/or swelling may occur for a few days following surgery, but many patients report little to no postsurgical pain. Here are some tips for what to do initially after surgery:
- Consume plenty of fluids, but do not drink through a straw
- Rinse gently with salt water
- Do not smoke
- Eat only soft foods
- Use moist heat, ice packs or medications as prescribed for pain control
Instructions from the dentist or surgeon should take precedence over these tips. The recovery is likely to go more quickly if you do what your doctor says.
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