Wisdom teeth are your third set of molars that usually erupt between the ages of 17 -25. Your dentist may recommend surgery to remove them for a number of reasons, including impaction, overcrowding, misalignment, pain, or infection.
If your dentist says it’s time to have your wisdom teeth removed, knowing what to expect before, during, and after the procedure can help you be as prepared as possible.
Whether the procedure will be performed in your dentist’s or oral surgeon’s office, you’ll start with a pre-surgery appointment. At this appointment, the surgeon will:
- Ask you about your medical history
- Ask about any medications, or supplements you’re currently taking
- Discuss the process for your surgery
- Discuss what type of anesthesia you’ll have
- Answer any questions you may have about the procedure
- Provide instructions on what to do before the surgery and on the day of your scheduled surgery
You’ll also need to make plans for your surgery appointment. These include coordinating a driver to drive you to and from the procedure and scheduling time off of work or school. It’s also important to have a supply of soft foods and pain relievers for your recovery period. You should not drink, eat, or smoke 12 hours before your surgery.
During the Procedure
Before having your wisdom teeth removed, your dentist or oral surgeon will administer one of three types of anesthetic so you don’t feel pain during the procedure:
- Local: This involves numbing the tooth and surrounding area with one or more shots of Novocaine or Licodaine. You may also breathe nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help you relax during surgery.
- Oral Conscious Sedation: If you’re particularly anxious, your dentist may give you a sedative in pill form to help you relax. You might even sleep during the procedure.
- General: This is rarely needed for simple wisdom tooth extraction, but is necessary for surgical extraction of impacted wisdom teeth. If recommended by your dentist, you’ll either breathe gas in through a mask or get drugs through an IV line in your arm. You will be asleep the whole time.
Once the area is numbed, your dentist will set to work removing your wisdom teeth. If the tooth hasn’t come through the gums, your dentist or oral surgeon may have to make a small access point in the gum to expose the tooth.
The tooth may be divided into sections to make it easier to remove through the opening. You may feel some pressure or a tugging sensation as your dentist or oral surgeon gently removes the tooth. You shouldn’t feel pain during the procedure because the area will be numb.
Once your wisdom tooth is removed, the treatment area will be cleaned to remove any debris. Stitches are used to close the incision and promote healing. Your dentist may place gauze over the extraction site to control bleeding and allow a clot to form in the empty tooth socket. They may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.
How long it takes to remove a wisdom tooth will vary. However, most procedures take 45 minutes or less.
If you receive oral conscious or IV sedation, you will be taken to a recovery room to rest until you feel ready to get up. Local anesthesia will only need brief recovery in the dental chair.
You’ll likely have mild discomfort or swelling for about three days. It generally takes a few weeks for your mouth to completely heal. Follow your surgeon’s post-surgery guidelines to improve your recovery time. Here are some important instructions to keep in mind for the first three days after surgery:
- Plan to rest for the remainder of the day after your surgery
- Use an ice pack to curb swelling
- Use general pain relievers or prescription pain medication from your oral surgeon or dentist
- Eat only soft foods like soup, applesauce, pasta, or yogurt
- Drink lots of water
- Don’t brush the extraction site, and follow your dentist’s instructions for carefully cleaning your teeth
- Don’t spit or drink through a straw
- Don’t smoke or use alcohol for at least 72 hours after surgery
Be sure to contact your dentist or oral surgeon if complications occur.
What To Expect from Wisdom Tooth Removal
Wisdom tooth removal is one of the most common dental procedures. It is often recommended to reduce your risk for a variety of dental problems and preserve your oral health. Recovery after your wisdom tooth extraction can take up to a week, depending on your specific case. Talk with your dentist about whether wisdom removal is right for you.