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Wisdom Teeth Removal: What You Should Expect

Wisdom tooth removal can be scary, but it is a safe and common procedure. Here’s a look at what you can expect before, during, and after.

Last updated on

December 27, 2023

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Wisdom Teeth Removal: What You Should Expect

Getting teeth extracted is something that is usually only done as a last-ditch effort to save a tooth from dental decay. However, there is an exception when tooth extraction is almost always recommended: wisdom tooth removal.

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, as well as oral health problems, if they are not removed in a timely fashion. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from start to finish during your wisdom tooth extraction.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are a type of molars, which are the teeth in the back of your mouth. These third molars are the last teeth that come through, usually starting to poke through the gums in your late teens or early 20s. It’s a normal part of mouth development.

You typically have four wisdom teeth: two on the top and two on the bottom. Some people have more wisdom teeth, and some people don’t grow any at all. Furthermore, some people grow in their wisdom teeth without experiencing any issues whatsoever.

Some individuals have a problem where wisdom teeth become impacted. Impaction occurs when the teeth come through at an angle and push against the gum tissue or the tooth beside them.

Wisdom Tooth Impaction

Impacted wisdom teeth occur because there isn’t enough room for them to erupt through the gum line normally. This is a common dental problem for many people in the modern age simply because of evolution.

Our early ancestors needed that extra set of molars in order to chew through coarse and hearty foods. Since their diets consisted of pretty much only meat and tough veggies, they needed larger jaws to be able to comfortably chew these tough foods. Nowadays, we can cook our food, and we don’t need all of that extra space.

We’ve since evolved to have a more narrow jaw since we don’t need such a big one. However, that means wisdom teeth often do not have enough room to grow in without jutting up against other structures in the mouth, mainly nearby teeth. This leads to impaction.

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Your dentist can usually tell if a wisdom tooth will get impacted before it erupts by using X-ray technology.

However, some other signs might indicate an impaction is imminent:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Jaw pain
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Swelling around the jaw
  • Bad breath

When To Get Wisdom Teeth Removed

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, but there are a few other important reasons why you might want to get them removed.

Some complications that can occur from keeping your wisdom teeth despite impaction include:

  • Cysts: The wisdom tooth develops in a sac within the jawbone that can fill with fluid if it becomes impacted or infected. This cyst can cause damage to the underlying nerves and jaw, which will be even more uncomfortable. Rarely, this can even lead to a tumor.
  • Damage to other teeth: When the wisdom tooth pushes against the second molar, it can cause damage and increase infection in that area. Pressure can also cause crowding of other teeth and may require something like braces or invisible aligners to correct.
  • Gum disease: When teeth are impacted, it can be tricky to clean them properly. This increases the risk of plaque build-up that can lead to inflammation of the gums, known as pericoronitis.
  • Tooth decay: Impacted teeth are at a higher risk of developing cavities since they are so difficult to clean properly. Bacteria can get easily trapped, making decay imminent.

Wisdom teeth removal is never fun, but it’s a lot better than the possible problems that can occur if you let them get impacted.

Can You Prevent Wisdom Teeth From Getting Impacted?

Sadly, there’s nothing to do to prevent wisdom teeth from becoming impacted. However, your dentist can spot if wisdom teeth will cause problems before they occur. Regular dental check-ups allow your dentist to give you X-rays and assess the angle at which wisdom teeth are growing in.

If they notice that the angle will cause some problems, they can recommend you get an extraction before they erupt in the first place to help you avoid the pain and discomfort of impacted wisdom teeth.

Wisdom Tooth Procedure

If you’re going to get your wisdom teeth removed, it is normal to be a little bit nervous. The procedure looks a bit different, depending on whether or not the wisdom teeth are above the gumline or below the gumline.

A Type of Anesthesia

First and foremost, your oral surgeon will give you a local anesthetic to numb the tooth and surrounding area. This ensures that you don’t feel any pain. If you’re feeling anxious, an oral surgeon can give you a sedative to help you relax during the procedure as well.

Younger patients, like children or teenagers, may be given general anesthesia to fall asleep completely during the surgical procedure. Since this method becomes more unsafe as you get older, it’s usually not performed for adults getting their wisdom teeth removed.

Wisdom Tooth Removal

If the wisdom tooth has not yet come through the gums, then a small incision is made on the gumline to access it. A small piece of the jawbone covering the tooth may also need to be removed. 

For the dentist to remove the tooth easily, it might need to be cut into smaller pieces that are easier to remove. If your tooth is already coming through the gums, they probably won’t need to make as many incisions.

You won’t feel any pain, but you’ll feel a little bit of pressure as the tooth is removed. You may also feel the surgeon widening the tooth socket by rocking the tooth back and forth before taking it out. Again, you shouldn’t feel any pain thanks to the anesthetic. If you do start to feel pain, be sure to call your healthcare provider. 

Simple wisdom tooth removals can take less than a half hour, but more complex procedures can take longer. Additionally, older adults may need to wait a few days between extractions rather than getting every tooth taken out at one time.

You’ll be given painkillers after your surgery, which might cause drowsiness. You’ll need to secure a ride to and from the dentist’s office, as you won’t be able to drive yourself.

Wisdom Tooth Removal Recovery

The recovery process for a wisdom tooth removal can take a couple of weeks for the gums to completely heal, though you’ll probably start to feel better after just a few days.

Here’s a timeline of what you can expect:

First 24 Hours After Surgery

Right when you get home from surgery, you’ll probably still feel a bit numb. You’ll have gauze packs placed over the surgical sites to absorb blood and help blood clots to form in the mouth. If these become soaked with blood, you’ll need to swap them out.

As the sedation starts to wear off, you’ll start to feel some pain and discomfort. Be sure to take the prescribed painkillers as needed or use over-the-counter pain medicines to help manage the pain. OTC medications may include ibuprofen. 

You’ll also need to eat a liquid diet consisting of broths, milk, soups, yogurt, ice cream, and other soft foods that don’t require chewing. Even if you tried eating hard food – you probably won’t feel very comfortable doing it. But trying to chew at this stage can also rip out the stitches and affect the healing process. Speaking of ice, ice packs can help too. 

You can brush your teeth normally, but do your best to avoid the extraction sites. Also, use a saltwater rinse to keep your extraction sites clean and free of infection.

One to Three Days After Surgery

You want to avoid strenuous exercise and exertion for the first few days after the surgery to ensure proper healing at the surgical site. You can start having slightly more solid foods as you feel comfortable, like mashed potatoes, Jell-O, pudding, or applesauce.

Pain and discomfort will peak during this time, but they will start to fade just as quickly. Continue to take your pain medication as directed. You might also notice some swelling or bruising near the extraction sites. This is likely normal.

One Week After the Surgery

Most of your pain and discomfort should subside by this point, and you’ll be able to eat more solid foods like bread, pasta, and rice. You should still avoid tough or crunchy foods like steak, chips, and popcorn.

At this time, you can also start gently brushing the extraction sites. Continue to use saltwater rinses to avoid infection at the extraction sites.

Two Weeks After Surgery

After two weeks, your extraction site should be almost completely healed. It might not look fully healed, and it might still feel a bit tender to the touch, but it shouldn’t interfere with your daily life. You can go back to eating pretty much any food and brush or floss as normal.

The underlying site will continue to heal on its own, but this process will continue without you needing to put in any special work.

Cost of Wisdom Tooth Removal

The cost of wisdom tooth removal is affected by a number of factors. There are many different things that can raise the price, including:

  • Whether or not the teeth are above or below the gums
  • Need for general or local anesthesia 
  • Number of teeth getting removed
  • Underlying conditions affecting the removal of the wisdom teeth

Most health insurance plans will cover all or some of the cost of wisdom teeth removal as long as it is considered medically necessary by your dentist. This is most often the case — rarely do people choose to have their wisdom teeth removed unless it is recommended by a dentist.

Considering over 76 million Americans don’t have dental insurance, many are stuck paying out of pocket for potentially necessary dental procedures like tooth extractions. 

The average cost of simple extractions for erupted teeth is around $300 (upwards of $700) per tooth. For complex extractions under the gums, it can cost upwards of $1,100 per tooth. That’s over $4,000 to get all four wisdom teeth removed. 

Affordable Dentistry Options

You shouldn’t need to pay that much to get the dental care you need. Luckily, with Flossy, you don’t have to.

Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service in which you only pay for the services you receive, including wisdom teeth extractions. Unlike insurance, there are no monthly premiums or deductibles, so you’re not paying a dime unless you actually get a procedure done.

Plus, we can save you up to 50% on common dental treatments, from root canals to cleanings. The dentists in our network are vetted against a set of rigorous criteria, including accreditation from top dental programs and excellent patient reviews — so you can always have faith that you’re getting top-quality care.

Find a dentist in your area today with the Flossy App and start getting the affordable dental care you need.

Alternatives to Wisdom Tooth Removal

There aren’t many alternative options to wisdom tooth removal, and rest assured that this is a common procedure that is safe. However, there is an alternative that is sometimes recommended.

A coronectomy is a dental procedure that is done when there is an increased risk of injury to the inferior dental nerve, known as the lingual nerve, which supplies feeling to the tongue, lips, and chin. Extraction near this nerve can cause direct or indirect nerve damage. It is also a procedure recommended for people over the age of 40.

With a coronectomy, only the crown of the tooth is removed, and the roots are left inside of the jaw intact. It is done by an oral surgeon, just like extraction. Your dentist will help you decide which procedure is the best choice for your given situation.

In Conclusion

Your wisdom teeth are the last teeth to grow into your mouth, and since we’ve evolved to have smaller jaws, these teeth usually end up becoming impacted against the other structures in the mouth. For that reason, they often need to be extracted.

Wisdom tooth removal is a painless process that might cause some discomfort during the recovery process. Still, the temporary discomfort is much better than the permanent damage that impacted teeth can cause.

Wisdom tooth removal is covered under most insurance plans, but if you need to pay out of pocket, this is one of the most costly procedures you can receive. That’s why Flossy is here to help.

Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service where you only pay for the services you receive. At up to 50% off the cost of extractions, you can get high-quality dental care at low, low prices.

That’s a major reason to smile — find a Flossy dentist near you today. 

Sources:

Wisdom teeth | Better Health Channel

Impacted wisdom teeth - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Pericoronitis - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf

A Snapshot of 76.5 Million Americans Without Dental Insurance | CareQuest Institute for Oral Health

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