Wisdom teeth extraction is a fairly common procedure, and around 10 million wisdom teeth are removed on a yearly basis. The surgery removes the third molars from the back of the mouth, which may or may not be impacted and may or may not be trying to break through a person’s gums. Although there may have been a point in history when those teeth were a necessity, changes in diet over several thousand years, plus the generally smaller jaw most people have today mean that the wisdom teeth are more of a nuisance than a useful tool.
Like any surgical procedure, there are a few risks that go along with the removal of wisdom teeth. For the most part, complications and risks from surgery are rare, but it is still worthwhile to know what they are and what you can do to minimize them.
The most common complication after any type of tooth extraction, wisdom tooth or another adult tooth, is a condition called dry socket. When an oral surgeon removes a tooth from your mouth, an empty socket is left behind. A blood clot forms protect the bone and nerves that lie just beneath the socket. The blood clot also feeds the new soft tissue and bone that grows in the empty socket.
As the name suggests, a dry socket develops when the blood clot is knocked loose or otherwise dissolves, before the area has had a chance to heal fully. The bone and nerves are left exposed, which can cause a significant amount of point. Many people also have pain that radiates across their face.
If you are experiencing dry socket after wisdom teeth extraction, you can both see and feel signs of the condition. You’ll be able to see that the area where your tooth was removed is empty. You might also be able to see the bone peeking through the socket. Usually, if you develop dry socket, you’ll experience severe pain several days after the surgery. Some people also develop a low fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Why dry socket develops isn’t fully understood, but there might be a few factors that contribute to it. If the removal of your wisdom teeth was particularly challenging, you might be at an increased risk for developing dry socket. The condition can also occur due to a bacterial infection or if pieces of bone are left in the socket after the procedure is over.
Damage to Nerves
Damage to the nerve that runs along the lower jaw, resulting in temporary or permanent numbness in the area, is another potential risk of having the wisdom teeth removed. A person’s risk for nerve damage, also called paresthesia, depends in large part on the position and size of the wisdom teeth. Usually, one of the advantages of performing the surgery when a person is still relatively young is that the roots of the teeth are still relatively short and won’t be positioned near the nerve.
An infection, either at the site of the extraction, or in another area of the body, is another possible risk of having your wisdom teeth removed. The infection can occur right after the surgery, due to bacteria that enters the mouth during the procedure. Alternatively, it’s possible to develop an infection in the area several days after the procedure, if you aren’t able to clean the area well and bits of food become trapped near the socket.
Although more rare, there is also the chance that wisdom teeth extraction will cause an infection to develop in another area of the body. This type of infection can occur when the bacteria that is naturally in your mouth enters the bloodstream and travels to another area. If you have a weak immune system or were born with a heart defect, you might be at an increased risk for infection after your surgery.
Minimizing Complications and Risks
Fortunately, there are numerous ways for an oral surgeon and a patient to minimize risks and complications after the wisdom teeth are removed. Patients who are at an increased risk for infection are usually given antibiotics before surgery, to act as an additional layer of protection. Antibiotics can also minimize a person’s risk for developing dry socket.
There are also a number of things a patient can do after surgery to minimize his or her risk for dry socket. Making sure to drink plenty of water will keep the area hydrated, for example. Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol is also important, for at least 48 hours after surgery. Since the pressure created when you drink from a straw can dislodge the blood clot, it’s usually a good idea to avoid any straws for a few days after surgery.
The dental team at Gallardo & Lamas have a few other methods for helping patients avoid dry socket and other surgical risks, such as using growth factor from the patient’s plasma to reduce the risk of dry socket. To learn more about the benefits of removing your wisdom teeth and how you can avoid any complications from the surgery, call the practice at (305) 447-1447 to schedule an appointment today.