What to expect from wisdom tooth removal
Answering your queries about wisdom tooth extraction.
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 the most commonly performed oral surgical procedure in Australia and doesn’t necessarily need a visit to hospital or even a general anaesthetic.
What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth (also known as third molars) 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. 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 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.
What are the symptoms of impacted tooth?
Symptoms of an impacted tooth may include bad breath or an unpleasant taste near the area, jaw stiffness, pain, tenderness, redness or swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth, headache and swollen lymph nodes. 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.
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, you cannot drive, so arrange for someone to take you home.
Related: What to expect from day surgery
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 to 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'. 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.
Wisdom tooth removal risks
As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks during and after the procedure. These may include:
excessive or intense pain
bleeding, swelling and bruising
infection (particularly if the area isn’t kept clean)
retained roots (where the whole tooth couldn’t be removed)
damage to nearby teeth or nerves
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.
And remember, if you’re feeling nervous, speak to your dental health professional beforehand. They can give you all the ins and outs and help put you at ease ahead of this very common procedure.
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, chat to someone about an upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance, please visit our contact page or call us on 13 16 42.
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.