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What to expect from wisdom tooth removal

Answering your queries about wisdom tooth extraction.

Younger man in blue t-shirt sitting in dentist chair having teeth examined by dentist
Younger man in blue t-shirt sitting in dentist chair having teeth examined by dentist

So you’ve been for your regular dental check-up and your dentist has told you, you need to have your wisdom teeth removed. First of all, don’t panic. This is a very common oral surgical procedure in Australia and doesn’t necessarily need a visit to hospital, opens in a new tab or even a general anaesthetic.  

So what can you expect when having your wisdom teeth removed?


What are wisdom teeth?

Why would I need my wisdom teeth removed? 

How are wisdom teeth removed?

 After wisdom tooth removal 

Wisdom tooth removal risks

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth (also known as third molars, opens in a new tab ) are the last of our back teeth to come through, usually appearing during our late teens or early 20s – and interestingly, not everyone has them, opens in a new tab. Those who do usually have four wisdom teeth – two top and two lower – though some people have more and some, fewer.  

Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed. If they come through without any issues, they can be left alone! However, if they cause problems, your dentist may recommend you have them extracted. 

Why would I need my wisdom teeth removed? 

There are several reasons wisdom teeth may need to be removed. Some wisdom teeth only partially erupt (meaning they don’t break through the gum all the way), coming in at an angle due to a lack of room in the mouth and getting stuck against nearby teeth, bone or gum. This is called impaction and can cause a whole host of problems, from pain and infection to cysts and ulcers.

Additionally, impacted wisdom teeth can be very difficult to brush, meaning food and bacteria can build up between the wisdom tooth and the tooth next to it, causing tooth decay.  

 Your dentist may advise you to have your wisdom teeth removed, opens in a new tab if: 

  • you’re experiencing repeated infections and/or pain. 

  • you have tooth decay in the area (or are at risk of developing tooth decay).  

  • there is damage to other teeth around your wisdom teeth. 

  • you have a cyst or tumour near or around your wisdom tooth/teeth. 

  • X-rays show there is not enough room in your mouth for your wisdom teeth to erupt fully (thereby preventing potential future problems). 

  • a wisdom tooth has grown too far (over-erupted) and is damaging the cheek or gum.  

 Related: How do I know if I’m covered for a procedure?

Dark haired guy lying on dentist chair having an exam

What are the symptoms of impacted tooth? 

Symptoms, opens in a new tab of an impacted tooth may include:

  • Red, inflamed gums near the impacted tooth

  • Facial swelling and difficulty opening mouth or jaw

  • Pain and sensitivity

  • Pus coming from beneath the tooth

  • fever

However, an impacted wisdom tooth can also be painless, which is why it’s important to see your dentist for regular check-ups. 

How are wisdom teeth removed?

Wisdom teeth can be extracted in the dentist’s chair with a local anaesthetic or in a hospital under general anaesthetic, depending on things like the difficulty of removal and the level of impaction. Some people have all four teeth removed in one procedure while others may only have one or two removed; the lower wisdom teeth are often more difficult to remove than the top teeth, opens in a new tab.  

To extract your wisdom teeth, your dentist or dental surgeon may need to cut the gum to uncover the tooth if it hasn’t come through completely, then use a special tool to loosen the tooth in the gum. They may also need to remove some bone around the tooth or divide your tooth with a drill. 

You will need to take time off work after the procedure – as much as a week – so be sure to factor that in when you schedule your surgery, and if you’re having the procedure under general anaesthetic, opens in a new tab, you cannot drive, so arrange for someone to take you home. 

While there is public dental support available, the offerings and eligibility criteria vary by state and territory with the pricing falling between $385 and $475 per tooth on average., opens in a new tab

 Related: What to expect from day surgery , opens in a new tab 

Do I need Hospital and Extras cover?

If you get your wisdom teeth removed at the dentist you only need Extras cover. This type of surgery is considered an out-of-hospital service and isn’t covered by your hospital policy.

If you get wisdom teeth surgery at hospital, you’ll need both Extras , opens in a new taband Hospital , opens in a new tabinsurance. Hospital cover will pay for hospital-related costs like accommodation, theatre fees, and the anaesthetist. Extras cover will help with the dentist or surgeon's surgical fee.

At nib, many of our Extras cover options, opens in a new tab include benefits for wisdom teeth removal. If you need this procedure in the future, consider using nib’s First Choice network to reduce your out of pocket expenses. This network consists of carefully selected health providers who offer nib members quality healthcare and services at an affordable price for common treatments.

Learn more about nib’s First Choice network, opens in a new tab and how it can save you money.

After wisdom tooth removal 

As the anaesthetic wears off, you’re likely to experience some pain, so make sure you have some pain-relief medication on hand (your dental health professional will advise which pain medication is best for you). Avoid strenuous exercise and alcohol, and do not smoke for at least 48 hours after the surgery.  

Your dentist or surgeon will give you other instructions , opens in a new tabto take care of the wound as it heals. From 24 hours after the procedure, holding warm salty water in your mouth after meals is recommended, and it’s important to eat soft foods that are easy to chew in the days after wisdom tooth extraction. Keep the area clear of food particles (your dentist will show you the best ways to gently keep the area clean). 

It’s important to avoid sucking through a straw and excess rinsing or spitting, which can cause the blood clot to come loose or prevent it from forming, leading to 'dry socket', opens in a new tab. This happens when the blood clot that usually forms to protect the underlying bone and nerve is dislodged or doesn’t form properly, leaving the bone and nerve exposed. 

Related: Recovering from surgery? Here’s what you need to know , opens in a new tab

Wisdom tooth removal risks 

As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks during and after the procedure, opens in a new tab. These may include: 

  • excessive or intense pain 

  • bleeding, swelling and bruising 

  • infection (particularly if the area isn’t kept clean) 

  • allergic reactions 

  • dry socket  

  • retained roots (where the whole tooth couldn’t be removed) 

  • damage to nearby teeth or nerves 

  • sinus problems 

  • broken jaw 

  • not being able to open your mouth fully (trismus) and jaw stiffness 

  • osteonecrosis (a rare condition in which jawbone tissue starts to die). 

See your doctor if you have severe pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, increased bleeding or swelling, pus or blood from the nose, a fever, persistent numbness or loss of feeling.

Going to the dentist can be stressful. We know this, and you know this. From the unexpected costs and being worried about the what-ifs, to the aftercare and being unsure of how to prolong your next visit to the dentist.

Remember, if you’re feeling nervous, we recommend speaking to your healthcare provider beforehand. They can give you all the ins and outs and help put you at ease ahead of your next appointment.

As nib’s First Choice Network, opens in a new tab continues to quickly expand, you can be positive that you will be getting quality care, as well as bang for your buck.

Are you heading to hospital soon?  

If you’re with nib, make sure you check out our  Going to Hospital  page. This tool gives you information on health insurance, tips on how to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses and helpful questions to ask your specialist. To find out the details of your current policy, log in to your member account, opens in a new tab or the nib App, opens in a new tab to check what you're covered for using the 'Going to Hospital' tool. Otherwise, give us a call on 13 16 42, opens in a new tab to chat with someone about an upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.  

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