Everything You Need To Know About Wisdom Teeth Removal
Wisdom teeth removal is a right of passage into adulthood for most. While it’s fun to lie in bed all day and post videos of anesthesia hangovers, oral surgery can be intimidating, so make sure you know the right questions to ask when you go to the oral surgeon’s office. In addition, we’ve put together a complete guide for everything you need to know about getting your wisdom teeth removed and how to ensure a speedy recovery.
First things first: Why are they called wisdom teeth?
Because Confucius say, that’s why.
It’s not because they bring timeless wisdom when they peek through your gums–if only! Otherwise known as third molars, most people don’t get their wisdom teeth until later in life, around age 17-25, hence the name. Wisdom teeth are pretty cool, actually; did you know they’ve recently been discovered as a viable source of stem cells to repair eyes?
What’s the big deal? Why do they have to be taken out?
Our mouths used to be built to accommodate all 32 of our teeth, but our modern diet lacks key nutrients that help jaw development (i.e. a wider facial structure). Because we no longer eat animal liver when we’re toddlers or live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle that includes crunchier foods, our jaws adapt to the loss of those vitamins, particularly K2, that helped our jaws grow to make room for our wisdom teeth. Most of the foods you see for young ones on the market today are applesauce, gummies, and crackers.
As a result of inadequate maxillofacial development, your wisdom teeth may become impacted as they grow in. This means they grow at an angle and crowd your second molars. Or, they could even be trapped in your jawbone or gums, and that tends to cause people a lot of pain. Sometimes people don’t need to have their wisdom teeth removed, either because their mouths can accommodate all 32 teeth, or they were born without them–lucky ducks!
However, if you’re part of the wisdom teeth crowd, you might also have gum disease or cavities, because you’re unable to reach your wisdom teeth with floss and brushing.
Wisdom teeth removal also prevents nasty infection.
Say Doc, the ol’ “kerchief around the jaw” trick isn’t working this time…
If your wisdom teeth grow in at a funky angle, it creates a perfect environment to trap food, bacteria, and even throw off your bite. All of these things have the potential to cause infections and immense amounts of pain. No matter how scared you may be of the dentist’s chair, having your wisdom teeth removed at the right time is a lot less terrifying than a throbbing infection in your mouth.
Speaking of which…
When is the right time to have wisdom teeth removed?
Look at those roots!
Generally speaking, our wisdom teeth come in anywhere between the ages of 17-25, like we mentioned above. However, teeth grow from the crown down, so it’s best to have the doc take them out before the root forms. Anything with a root system already in place is a thousand times harder to remove than an object that could simply be rolled out of your gums. (Think digging a tree out of the ground versus rolling a basketball out of a pile of dirt.) It’s crucial to visit your dentist once you–or your kids–get to that age, so he or she can monitor the status of your wisdom teeth and decide the perfect time to pluck them out.
It’s also important to choose a time when stress levels will most likely be at their lowest, like at the start of spring break or summer vacation. Patients also need someone to drive them home after the procedure, and those times tend to be the most open.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s how to prepare for the big day!
What should I do before surgery?
- Talk with your doctor about questions you may have. A discussion will help with any nervousness and determine the best path of treatment for you.
- Have someone bring you to surgery and drive you home, because you probably won’t know how the anaesthesia affects you until you’re half-conscious in the chair talking gibberish about why grandma should totally get a dirt bike.
- Have a light breakfast to keep your blood sugar levels even (local anesthesia), or go in on an empty stomach (general anesthesia or nitrous). There are different kinds of anesthetic, and it’s important to learn about each one and discuss with your doc which will be best for you.
- Make sure you go in with a clean mouth prior to surgery. You’re not going to be able to brush your teeth for a few days after getting your wisdom teeth out, so brush, floss, and even take a scraper to your tongue to really get the gunk.
- Wear loose-fitting layers. They’ll keep you warm and be easy for the doc to push aside for the anesthesia needle. Or, bring a blanket!
What about post-surgery?
Usually wisdom teeth removal takes about 45 minutes. It’s an outpatient procedure, so you’ll be out of the doctor’s office the same day. Once you’re snuggled in bed, follow this guidance to make sure your recovery is speedy and complete:
- Stay in bed. Rest, recover, and relax! You’ll probably need anywhere from four days to a full week to be back to yourself.
- Keep your head elevated for the first three days. This will keep you from bleeding as badly and reduce your inflammation faster.
- Don’t spit, rinse, brush, suck, or blow on anything! Doing any of these will cause blood clots to dislodge and more bleeding. Plus, you’ll encourage a dry socket.
- Eat soft foods. Soup, smoothies, and juice are great choices that will put the least amount of stress on your body and fresh wounds in your mouth.
- If you’re a smoker, don’t do it. The smoke could infect your wounds, and taking a drag off a cigarette could cause a dry socket (see rule 3).
- Use an icepack. This will calm the pain and inflammation in your face. Make sure to wrap it in a cloth towel before applying it to your face. Direct contact will be too intense for your skin and precious wisdom teeth holes.
- No exercise and limit physical activity for the first 24 hours. Your body needs time to rest and recover! The anesthesia may have worn off, but remember you have two (or four) additional holes in your face! Make sure you take ample amount of time to return to physical activity even after the first 24 hours. Most activity can induce dry sockets, further bleeding, and it can make your recovery time much longer.
Are there any long-term effects of wisdom teeth removal?
Most common long-term effect? A killer smile.
Simply put, yes, but they’re nothing to worry about. Up to five years after surgery, you could notice facial thinning, folds in your gumline, occasional bone-aches, or sensitivity to cold on your second molars (the ones right next to your former wisdom teeth). In some cases, 5-10 years after surgery you might find a flake or sharp edge emerge from your wisdom teeth sites. This is just bone fragment expulsion, and the dentist can remove these.
To wrap things up, wisdom teeth removal is a simple, regular procedure that isn’t cause for worry as long as it’s done at the right time and by a trusted specialist. So sit back, relax, and enjoy those smoothies and chicken soup.