What It’s Like to Have Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
There are many things that we can do to keep our teeth healthy. We can brush and floss every day, see the dentist every six months, and eat healthy foods. One thing we can’t always avoid, though, is having our wisdom teeth removed. Sometimes our mouths are just too small for our teeth to grow, and they become impacted or can’t break through the skin at all. So, they need to be cut out. This is a minor surgery that takes minutes, but any kind of surgery can be scary. Here is my experience in having this procedure done. While my results yielded the best possible outcome, things don’t always go as smoothly. In this article, I discuss what you can expect.
Wisdom teeth are actually called third molars. They are the only teeth that do not develop in the womb. They tend to grow between the ages of 17-25. (http://www.oralsurgeryofutah.com/blog/bid/326009/Surprising-facts-about-wisdom-teeth)
The need for the procedure came out of a routine trip to the dentist. After the doctor took X-rays, he noticed that my wisdom teeth had begun to grow, but they were impacted. One had managed to poke itself through the gum which reminded me of what it’s like to cut teeth, but I was sure that this one would make it through. However, this was not the case. I would have to have them all cut out. A call was made to see an oral surgeon, and I had an appointment within a few weeks. I was in my early 20’s and in college. So, I waited until the semester was over so that I wouldn’t miss any school. I didn’t know how long to expect to recover. I’d seen some people really struggle after their surgery, being unable to open their mouth more than a crack as long as a week after the procedure.
The oral surgeon took a look at my mouth and scheduled the appointment. He didn’t have my X-rays forwarded by my dentist yet but assured me that he would have them by the day of the procedure (and he did) so that he would have a picture to guide him through the surgery. He then gave me instructions for prepping for the surgery. It would be done right in his office. An anesthesiologist would be called in to put me into a twilight sleep (believe me, I begged for gas, but they don’t seem to do that anymore).
Experts guess that between 60 to 85 percent of people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. Nine out of 10 people tend to have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/health/06consumer.html?_r=0)
I had to stop eating the night before my surgery. After dinner, I was cut off from snacking and couldn’t eat breakfast the next day either. I was allowed to drink until three hours before the procedure, but my stomach had to be completely empty. I remember eating whatever I wanted that day since I knew that solid foods would be a problem the next day with a bloody mouth full of stitches. The next morning, I woke up and threw on a loose fitting t-shirt and sweat pants. They told me to wear loose clothing.
Anthropologists believe that we have wisdom teeth due to early humans eating a tough diet which tended to shift the teeth around, allowing room for the third molars to grow. These days, our diet is much softer, and we have new methods for keeping teeth straight and in line (such as braces) which don't allow room for the extra teeth to grow.(http://www.oralsurgeryofutah.com/blog/bid/326009/Surprising-facts-about-wisdom-teeth)
The Day of the Surgery
My mom drove me to the oral surgeon that morning. I believe my appointment was around 9 or 10. No one else was in the waiting room. I looked blankly through magazines waiting to be called back in. I was the first one there so I was sure that I would be called back right away. The anesthesiologist was running late, though, so they had to wait for him to get there. After an agonizing hour, he finally arrived.
I was called into an examining room where the surgeon explained what he was going to do. Then the anesthesiologist explained his role. I left my mom in the room while they walked me back to the operating room. It was essentially a reclined dentist’s chair like any other used for a routine checkup. The instruments were all out, and the drip bag was waiting for me.
The anesthesiologist wrapped my arm in a large rubber band and then tapped hard on the top of my hand to let the veins pop. It was not pleasant. I turned away and waited for it to be over. Gently, he let me know when he was sliding in the needle. It pinched as he slid it through my skin. Then, he inserted the tube which pinched again. It wasn’t a good feeling, but it wasn’t excruciating. A tube was placed in my nostrils, and I felt cool, calming air pumping into my nose. It was the best feeling of the entire procedure. I remember drooping my head away from my violated arm. That’s when I must have went into the twilight sleep, just a few seconds after the needle went in.
Impacted teeth are teeth that do not break the gums. Partially impacted teeth come up through the gums but not all the way. (http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/oral-health/expert-qa-wisdom-teeth-extraction#K1q4p81hcsyO5GpA.99)
The next thing I remember, I heard my anesthesiologist, a real easygoing and funny guy, say, “Don’t worry, we got the whole thing on tape,” from far away. I didn’t even realize I had been out, but suddenly, I felt so heavy. The needle was out of my arm, and all that remained was a piece of gauze taped to the top of my hand. I only caught glances of what was going on. My vision was fuzzy, and my eyelids were so heavy that I could only open them for a few seconds at a time. It was the most tired my body had ever been, but my mind was racing. I snuck a glance at my watch and saw that not even a half hour had passed since I had gone under.
The nurse and doctor sat me up and walked me to another “recovery room,” presumably so that they could set up for the next surgery. I was so relieved that the procedure was over, but I was still so tired. I began to shake like I had the chills, though I wasn’t cold. The nurse wrapped me in a security blanket that felt like the blanket I had carried around as a baby. I lay on a table and shivered, trying to wake up. I could hear my mom in the room talking to the nurse. The few times I was able to open my eyes, I knew that it was dark. I still don’t know what that nurse looked like, but she had a friendly voice and was wearing white.
I wasn’t acting strange like the people you see in Youtube videos. Other people I know who have had the surgery came out acting drunk or even emotional from the anesthesia. It just made me weak and tired, which is nothing new to me. My face was numb from the tip of my nose to the bottom of my chin. I knew that this was the local anesthetic; I had been shot with it once before when I had had a tooth filled. I couldn’t feel my cheeks, but I could tell they were puffy by the way I was talking. Even though I still couldn’t open my eyes, the nurse asked me if I was ready to go. I didn’t feel like I was, but I nodded anyway.
I heard my mom ask about the best way to leave, and the nurse told her to go through a back door. She led me out the door, across a busy street, and down the hill to where the car was parked. I walked the whole way with my eyes closed, holding on to my mom like an old woman being helped across the street. She reclined the passenger’s seat so that I could lie down on the way home.
Complications of wisdom tooth extraction include a condition called a "dry socket," when blood clots shift in the socket of your tooth, causing pain. Nerve damage is the worst complication, occurring in the jawbone which can cause numbness in the bottom lip. This is more common in older patients. (http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/oral-health/expert-qa-wisdom-teeth-extraction#K1q4p81hcsyO5GpA.99)
It was only a few minutes ride home. Even by the time I got to the couch, I still couldn’t open my eyes for very long.
My mom asked if I wanted to take out my gauze.
“What gauze?” I asked through a full mouth.
I still couldn't feel anything. Even my nose was still numb. My mom had me open my mouth, and it looked like Mrs. Fratelli pulling the pearl necklace out of Mouth’s mouth in The Goonies. A long, large ball of gauze came out of my mouth along with those long, cylindrical pieces. I could speak better, but I still couldn’t feel anything. The gauze was a bit bloody, and I could start to taste blood when I swallowed. I was told to wash my mouth out with salt water as often as possible over the next few days but not to do it right away. My stitches were still raw and needed to clot.
It took me practically all day to wake up. I didn’t want to eat anything, and I was afraid to open my mouth too wide and pull my stitches. The local anesthetic had wore off by then, tingling just at the bottom of my chin before it fizzled out all together. My mouth had a metallic taste all day. I was given a prescription of Vicodin, and by then, I decided that I should take it, thinking that the pain was going to start any minute. Everyone I had seen at school or in my family seemed to really be sore after the surgery, and I expected the same, but intense pain never hit. I took the Vicodin anyway, just to be safe. The medicine made me dizzy, and after two days of taking just one or two pills a day, I began to hallucinate. My skin crawled, and I was tired but couldn’t sleep, a lot like after I had just woken up from the surgery. What little pain I had could be controlled with regular Tylenol so I took that instead.
Once I got the nerve to open my mouth all the way, I took a look at my mouth in the mirror. My gums were a little swollen in the back of my mouth, and large, black thread stitched the wounds closed. I had never had stitches before. They didn’t bother me much, but they still put me a little on edge. I was afraid to eat solid foods for the first few days, worrying about infection and pain, but after the third day, I had rigatoni for dinner, and I survived.
It is recommended to have your wisdom teeth removed between the ages of 16 and 22. Some people wait as long as their 50's to have the procedure done. By this time, however, it's due to complications they are having from not having the procedure done sooner. (http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/oral-health/expert-qa-wisdom-teeth-extraction#K1q4p81hcsyO5GpA.99)
Removing the Stitches
For the next week, I rinsed my mouth with salt water at least once every hour. I just used regular table salt and tap water that I swished around and then spit out after a few seconds. After a week, I was back to normal, but my stitches were still intact. I had an appointment with the oral surgeon to have them cut out. I was led into the back where an assistant took a pair of scissors and snipped the –ends of the stitches and then pulled them out of my gums. The entire trip took about five minutes. She remarked on how well I had healed already. I credited the salt water for that.
About 30 percent of people are missing one or more wisdom tooth. (http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/oral-health/expert-qa-wisdom-teeth-extraction#K1q4p81hcsyO5GpA.99)
One Little Complication
I thought that was the end of things, but a few days after my stitches were removed, the back of my top left gum began to hurt. Then, it started to swell. Then, it started to pus. I remember watching a movie one night and just playing with that part of my mouth and feeling miserable. Finally, my fingers closed in on something stringy.
I ran upstairs to the bathroom , shined a flashlight into my mouth, and looked in the mirror. There was still a piece of my stitches sticking out of my gum. I grabbed a pair of scissors and began to snip, cutting through the stitch without trying to cut myself. Finally, I snipped through and pulled out a thick, black piece of string a little over an inch long. It was covered in pus, and I spit some more out into the sink (sorry for the graphic image), but my gum instantly started to feel better. I rinsed my mouth with salt water again and held a piece of ice on it until the swelling went down. By morning, my gum was back to normal. Apparently, the woman who had cut out my stitches had missed a spot, causing my gum to become infected. Luckily, I caught it before any real damage was done.
For several months after the surgery, I had deep crevices in my gums from where the cuts had been made. I assumed that the side where the one tooth had come up would have healed faster since it didn’t have to be cut as deep, but it healed about the same as the other three sides of my mouth. There is still a groove between my gum and my last tooth on the bottom left side of my mouth where food can become easily trapped. It’s something I have to keep an eye on so that I don’t get an infection, but otherwise, my mouth is totally back to the way it was before.
In 2008, Japanese researchers discovered that wisdom teeth contain stem cells which can be saved to potentially be used if stem cells are needed later in life.
Have you had your wisdom teeth removed?
In the end, having my wisdom teeth removed was an interesting experience. I learned what it’s like to be put under for the first time, I discovered that Vicodin does not agree with me, and I learned that not everyone’s experience is the same. Ultimately, there is very little that you have control over. The best you can do is follow your oral surgeon’s directions before and after the surgery, put on a brave face, and keep a positive attitude. Many people go through much rougher procedures every day, and it’s important to keep that in perspective. In the end, it’s going to save you a lot of pain that you could have otherwise.
Tips for Having Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
Follow the surgeon’s surgery prep directions
Have somebody drive you to the surgeon’s office and home again
Wash out your healing mouth with salt water as often as possible
Don’t think about how you should feel; think about how you do feel
Don’t take prescription medications unless over the counter medications definitely aren’t working.
Make sure that your stitches are completely removed
Don’t wait until you're in pain to have the procedure done.