Wisdom teeth once served a purpose, back when humans ate a much more abrasive diet and their molars used to wear out by their twenties. Wisdom teeth were originally meant to fill gaps left by worn out 2nd molars. However, the softer diets of modern humans mean that molars don’t face the same abrasion and wear out as quickly, leaving no room for the wisdom teeth to come in. Because of this, wisdom teeth have a nasty habit of becoming impacted, meaning that they either partially break through the gums (partially impacted) or they do not erupt at all (fully impacted). If wisdom teeth can’t break through the gum line, they can cause infection, gum disease, discomfort, and pain, which typically means that you need your wisdom teeth removed. The question is: when does it go from “wait and see if they fully erupt” to “okay, it’s time to take them out”? And if you do need to have them removed, how can you make the recovery as painless as possible?
When Is It Time for Wisdom Teeth Removal?
Sometimes, impacted wisdom teeth elicit no symptoms at all; you may not even realize that you have them. However, if the gums at the back of your mouth become swollen or painful, they may be infected. Infection caused by impacted wisdom teeth can also cause swollen lymph nodes, swelling around the jaw, headache, jaw pain, unpleasant taste, and even bad breath, all on top of the pain and swelling of the gums. If you experience any or all of these symptoms, it’s time to go to the dentist. If you ignore it, the infection can spread or tooth decay can affect other teeth. Furthermore, impacted wisdom teeth can also cause damage and overcrowding to adjacent teeth. Other signs that wisdom teeth removal may be necessary are improper bite alignment (caused by wisdom teeth coming in twisted or at an angle); cysts forming around the wisdom teeth due to impaction; or pain in adjacent teeth (which may indicate the tooth growing sideways against the second molars).
Wisdom Teeth Extraction Aftercare
It is crucial to take proper care of yourself in the days and weeks following wisdom teeth removal. Complications – like dry socket – are possible, though uncommon. Dry socket is caused by a dislodged or dissolved blood clot where the extracted tooth used to be, leaving the bone and nerve exposed. However, by taking the following precautions, you can minimize your risk of complications significantly.
Make Sure You Have Someone There for You
Depending on the level of anesthesia you needed (conscious vs. unconscious) for the surgery, you will most likely not be able to drive for a while after, so make sure you have someone to take you home and look after you. You may want to warn them ahead of time of the following precautions, as the anesthesia and medication may make you sleepy and cause you to forget some of the things you need to do or avoid after wisdom teeth extraction.
Use Ice Packs
You will probably experience some swelling in the face and neck for a few hours to a few days after wisdom teeth removal surgery. Make sure you use ice packs to soothe the area and reduce any swelling. Your oral surgeon may provide you with a netted or cloth head wrap to keep the ice packs in place.
Let your body recover. You just had surgery, after all. You need time to recover from the anesthesia and the wisdom tooth extraction surgery itself, and you will probably feel very, very tired for a few days. Give yourself that time to just rest and recuperate. You’ll find the recovery process goes a bit more smoothly that way.
Keep Replacing the Gauze
Your oral surgeon will put wads of gauze in the back of your mouth to help stem the bleeding (in addition to stitches, if they were necessary). Make sure you have clean, fresh gauze waiting at home for you, and replace the gauze every so often to prevent infection.
Eat Soft, Cool Foods
After wisdom teeth extraction, your mouth and jaw will probably be sore, and the spaces where the teeth once were will be exposed and susceptible to infection and dry socket. It is vital that you keep your diet restricted to soft foods that are either cold or room temperature. Avoid hot foods at this time, as they can potentially dissolve the blood clot protecting you from dry socket. Stick to foods like Jell-O, pudding, ice cream, mashed potatoes, protein shakes, and similar soft meals.
No Straws and No Smoking
This is really, really important. After wisdom teeth removal, do not drink through a straw. The sucking motion can cause blood clots to dislodge, causing dry socket. If you are a smoker, stay away from cigarettes as well, as this has the same effect. When drinking, drink directly from the cup.
Go to Your Follow-Up Appointment(s)
Your oral surgeon will schedule a follow-up appointment about a week after your surgery date. Don’t skip it. It is a vital part of your wisdom teeth extraction aftercare. Your oral surgeon needs see how you are recovering and determine if there are any signs of infection or dry socket. They also will give you instructions for continuing recovery.
Irrigate the Surgery Sites after Each Meal
If you had your lower wisdom teeth removed, your oral surgeon will usually give you instructions at your first follow-up appointment to begin the next stage of wisdom teeth removal aftercare: irrigating the surgery sites after meals. You shouldn’t do this too soon, or you risk getting dry socket. Your oral surgeon will give you what looks like a syringe with a tube on the end. Fill the syringe with water, salt water, or water mixed with a little mouthwash (depending on your oral surgeon’s instructions). Gently insert the tube into the surgery site and slowly press the plunger. This will cause the liquid to push any food particles out of the healing wound, preventing infection as the wound closes. Always rinse the syringe after each use, and use this method to irrigate the surgery sites after every meal.
Follow All of Your Oral Surgeon’s Directions and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
The most important thing to do during your wisdom teeth removal aftercare is to follow all of your oral surgeon’s directions. They may have additional or replacement steps for you to take during your recovery. If you are concerned about any additional pain or unusual symptoms, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist or oral surgeon. Similarly, if you have yet to have your wisdom teeth removed, ask your dentist about any symptoms you are having and any concerns you have about the surgery.
For any such concerns, feel free to contact the Acworth Center for Family Dentistry. Our dental professionals have the knowledge and experience to answer your questions and make your recovery as smooth as possible. Call (770) 203-1711 or fill out our short online form to schedule an appointment today.