Maybe it’s the drilling sound, or perhaps the shots. Or maybe it’s just the thought of a stranger crawling around inside your mouth that makes people fear a trip to the dentist. Add the fact that you need to have your wisdom teeth removed, and sheer terror can set in.
Many Fairmont students are reaching the age when they will have to deal with those pesky wisdom teeth, also called the third molars. “Usually, they attempt to erupt into the mouth around 17 or 18 years old; however, the range is large,” said Dr. Brian Kernan, a Dayton dentist. “Eruption could occur anywhere from 17-24 years old normally, but they’ve been known to ‘pop’ through the gums even on 50- to 60-year-olds who never had them removed.”
Kernan said the other molars come in between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. “For most people, the size of the jaw can only accommodate the first and second molars,” he said.
There are four wisdom teeth, two on each side, in the very back of the mouth. Most people have to have the teeth removed because they can come in sideways and create poor alignment. They also can cause damage to adjacent teeth, the jawbone and nerves.
Sometimes a patient only needs to have a few of them removed, but other times all four teeth must come out. Kernan said that if people have big enough jaws to allow eruption of the third molars into the mouth without crowding and they can keep them clean, then there is no reason to remove them.
Back in the day, the cavemen didn’t have dentists, so it’s a wonder what they did when their wisdom teeth came in. Evolutionists believe that in the process of evolution, the jaw has become smaller, allowing less room for the third molars.
What’s involved in the surgery
A wisdom tooth that is under the gums and embedded in the jawbone will require an incision into the gums and then removal of the portion of bone that lies over the tooth. Kernan said that usually the tooth is cut into small pieces so it can be removed through a small hole in the bone, and then the tissue is laid back and sutured.
The process is nerve-racking to think about, but before the patients have their teeth removed, the dentist will give them an anesthetic. A local anesthetic can be used to numb the area where the teeth will be removed, or a general anesthetic may be used if several or all of the wisdom teeth are being removed. A general anesthetic prevents pain in the whole body and causes the patient to sleep through the whole procedure.
Senior Katie Solada said she wasn’t nervous for the removal of her wisdom teeth on Sept. 14 of this year. “After I was given the anesthetic, I didn’t remember anything. I don’t even remember going to sleep,” she said.
Fairmont grad Jennifer Bauer, 21, also had a general anesthetic when she had her wisdom teeth removed during Christmas break in 2006. “I was completely out; I don’t even remember what my dentist looked like,” said Bauer. “Once I woke up, I could still feel the effects of the anesthetic.”
Preparation for the surgery actually begins the night before. “The dentist told me not to eat or drink anything for 12 hours,” said Solada.
Post-surgical pain and other complications
After the surgery, most patients are sore and use different methods to help with the pain. Solada said she used ice a lot and used heat for her neck. Bauer was given Vicodin, which seemed to help. Solada, on the other hand, said that Vicodin didn’t work for her and she was in a lot of pain.
Some patients are fortunate and come out of the surgery with few problems. However, the common problems in addition to pain can range from swelling to a dry socket.
A dry socket is the layman’s term for alveolar osteitis (inflammation of the tooth bone) and it can occur after surgery. A blood clot will form in the open socket or hole after the tooth is removed. The clot is important for normal healing. If the clot is lost, the underlying bone is exposed and this results in significant pain.
Luckily for Solada, she didn’t get a dry socket, just a little swelling. “My cheeks were swollen for weeks, and I couldn’t run during track,” said Solada. “The track team would run past me and swell up their cheeks to make fun of me.”
Although a dry socket can’t always be avoided, there are some things a patient can do to help avoid it. Smoking, drinking through a straw, rinsing too vigorously too early and food or debris getting into the socket all increase chances of its development.
Although she didn’t have any major side effects, Solada said she accidentally ripped out her dissolvable stitches and her gum wouldn’t stop bleeding, so she had to have it cauterized.
After the removal of wisdom teeth, most patients find it painful to eat solid foods for awhile. Solada said her main food was pudding, along with mashed potatoes and ice cream. Bauer ate similar foods after her surgery. “I ate a lot of popsicles. I also had soup, yogurt and Jell-O,” she said.
Once patients get their wisdom teeth removed, they usually take a few days off from school. “You get out of your sport for awhile; it’s a time to relax,” said Solada.