I recently had a wisdom tooth extraction (6/30/2015 – yesterday!) and thought I would share my experience for any of those that may find it of useful or comforting. Spoiler Alert: It isn’t as doom-and-gloom as many post about it online. Please note that I am not a nurse and this series will not be a series that suggests medical advice. I am a firm believer in following the surgeon and pharmacists’ advice on all procedures and medications and that every situation is different. So, I will not be advising on anyone else’s case. I do, however, think that my experience can provide some value and insight on my own psychological experience as I was once sitting behind a screen, very nervous, only to find that it was much easier than I’d originally thought. And, since it just happened, its certainly interesting to blog about while I recover.
Why I Had Put It Off
I just turned 26 years old, which I understand is a little late to be getting wisdom teeth pulled due to age of gums and healing time. My dentist has also been trying to get me to pull them since I turned 19 and they began erupting (or, in the case of my bottom two, attempting to erupt). Like most people, I put the extraction off due to a combination of (1) finances – seriously, who has an average of $2k lying around?; (2) scheduling – during my early 20’s I was paycheck to paycheck and I could not afford to be several days out of work; and mostly (3) fear – maybe if I ignore them, they’ll straighten back out? ( …um, nice try).
So, why then did I choose to have them now while I’m in the middle of moving across the continent, while I am visiting a different country of origin and when they are crooked as ever? The simple answer is because I had to. Not that if I went a day past the day I chose that I was at risk for severe complications, but because I was allowing fear, and fear disguised as practicality, hold me back through added stress. It was one of those looming things in the back of my mind, kind of like when you know your car’s radiator is on the fritz; If it isn’t taken care of pretty immediately, it will more than likely hurt the engine, which is a bigger issue.
So here’s a little about my tooth situation: I was lucky enough to have my top two wisdom teeth fully erupt. Although they swung outwards towards my cheekbone/jaw and occasionally caused cuts in the tops of my mouth, they were not my problem teeth. My problem teeth made themselves known on the bottom as I understand is very typical. I had two partial eruptions that became impacted. And, the oddball way that they erupted allowed for a flap of skin behind my tooth to act as a sort of hat on top of half of my tooth. This doesn’t sound so bad, right? I made sure to brush up under this hat often with a special brush that I’d gotten from a dentist called a Sulcabrush, thinking that I was a-ok. Note: The Sulcabrush is not designed for this purpose, by the way; It is meant to be a toothbrush designed for hard-to-reach areas between teeth (akin to floss, but only brushing from the outside grooves of the teeth). And as you will see, no matter how valiant my efforts, I only prolonged the inevitable.
A Little About My Symptoms and Motivators: I thought that this gum flap sounded downright protective of my tooth. Little did I know that this flap worked like a bi-directional doggy door instead of a one-way. It allowed everything I ate to get down behind my tooth (which was a little diagonal, coming in facing the front, but not totally sideways) into a little pocket between the back of my wisdom tooth and in front of my jawbone. As my oral surgeon would tell me, this bacteria set up for an infection that would, over time, eat away at my jaw bone. Over time, it would create an even bigger hole for more gunk and the process just goes on and on. This was happening every day on both sides of the bottom of my jaw. I had already decided to have them pulled at the consultation, but this was the solidifying factor for me; This singular detail was what switched on the light bulb in my head of why time was not on my side. It is also good to note that I have a low-sugar (including limited fruits), limited processed foods where high-fiber carbs, healthy fats and lean meats are central. But even with a healthy diet, brushing my teeth twice per day, flossing and using my Sulcabrush to try to brush up under that little area, seeing a dentist for a checkup every 6 months, I still experienced a smell from these two teeth and a nasty taste from time to time. In short, I’m sure my situation could have been much worse, but there was absolutely no way to avoid the pull by changing my daily routine. The only real way out was through.
As time went on, I noticed that I would get headaches at night and during rainy days. At first, I thought that they stemmed from my hormones or just naturally holding tension in my jaw; I likened this to how some folks get back tension or neck tension. Over time, I figured out that this was happening due to my teeth. Most of the time, my bottom teeth were the culprit, but I’d noticed that my top teeth contributed to a really tight feeling in my upper jaw as well. When I visited for X-rays, and even just looking in the mirror, I saw that there was some crowding on both the bottom at the top.
After all of these reasons, as if I needed another one, I decided to have them removed as a 100% must-do before James and I decided to expand our family. I couldn’t bear the what-if of being 6 months pregnant with excruciating jaw pain that could have been avoided or even the thought of having this surgery shortly after giving birth and having a little one that I’d be unable to get up to care for due to my few days of recovery. I also didn’t feel too comfortable knowing that baby is totally dependent upon my body for its very-first 9 months and I would be welcoming it with an ongoing infection in my jaw. On the off-chance that it wouldn’t have any bearing on my child’s health, I just didn’t feel comfortable with the idea at all.
Before I went in, I’d decided that I needed my bottom two teeth out. I scoured the Internet for information and recommendations on different forms of anesthesia, to or not-to forgo it, and how the process generally rolls along. I tried to figure the costs per tooth and find the highest rated oral surgeon in my area. I am from the US and review sites like Yelp, Google, etc are of major use to me and commonly stocked with many review and opinions; This has been more of a challenge for me in Canada. I assume that due to smaller population size that not as many opinions are available. However, I was able to search up oral surgeons in my area and read many, many reviews of people who stated that my oral surgeon was highly talented, reduced their recovery time, some reported that they were virtually pain-free compared to what they imagined could have been (Spoiler: I’m having a similarly positive experience so far).
So, I called in and scheduled an appointment. I was particularly nervous about the cost since our cross-continent move has been a huge expense and I was worried about recovery time and moving. At first, we were due to move at the beginning of August and I worried about worst-case scenario and not being fully healed when on the road. Happily, we decided to move at the end of August and this allowed me more time. I was also given a tentative date for a consultation on a Friday with the surgery on the following Tuesday in case I wanted “General Anesthesia” with the anesthesiologist on site.
The consultation, itself, was extremely easy. I was called in, an xray was shown to me (from my dental office dating back probably close to 6 months ago) and the oral surgeon explained to me about the flaps over both my impacted bottom wisdom teeth. He gave me a choice to remove my top ones, citing that I didn’t have a reason to remove them if I didn’t need them out right then. However, I knew that they were a source of my headaches and also was a little afraid, from what I’d heard about recovery and pain, that once I’d had the surgery, I would never want it again. So, I decided to swipe all four in one go.
I also spoke with him about recommendations on pain relief. For more information on the different levels of pain relief typically offered, Web MD has a great breakdown of the terminology and what level is given here. At first I’d suggested perhaps just going with local anesthetic (the shots to numb the area in the mouth) with some nitrous gas. However, after we discussed my bottom teeth and the complexity of their removal (it seemed that a bit of my jaw bone might need to be filed), I opted for IV sedation. I did not want General Anesthesia whatsoever. I don’t know why, but I am terrified of being completely under. I reserve thinking about General Anasthesia for more along the lines of like open heart surgery. In spite of choosing just the IV sedation, I was nervous about the anesthesia and the insertion of the IV needle (Spoiler: I worried over nothing; This was completely painless and one of the easiest needle procedures I’ve ever experienced). I think my mind didn’t have any reference as to what the surgery would feel like, but I knew what a needle felt like so it chose to focus on this as an anxiety dump. So, I was very happy to have my actual surgery date scheduled for just after the weekend. That way, I could get it over with and get on with recovering.
The admin staff printed up a sample estimate for me as well as instructions on some requirements, including removal of nail polish (for the monitor) and a 6 hour minimum of fasting prior to receiving the IV sedation. They let me know what prescriptions I could expect to be given and that my husband would need to drive me to and from the appointment. The entire thing would last about 1hr and 45 minutes with a 30-minute warm up for the sedation to kick in and a 45-minute cool-down for the sedation to wear off. If stitches were used, they would be water soluble and no follow up was needed unless complications were to occur. After the surgery, the nurse would go over recovery instructions with my husband and me.
And that was it. For the weekend that followed, it was just me, Google and trying to figure out what I could eat after my extraction.
Interested in reading more? Next, I’ll share what things were on my shopping list and my pre-extraction prep.
>>Part II: My Pre-Surgery Prep + Recommendations
Are you nervous about an upcoming wisdom tooth extraction? I was too. I’m currently writing this not even 24 hours after my surgery. One of my biggest mistakes was reading all of the “horror stories” online. In my next post, I’ll link to the blog that gave me the most reassurance the night prior and offer some tips for things you’ll want in the first 24 hours.