Mountie Mack: Surviving Wisdom Tooth Extraction

Outsmarting Wisdom Teeth: The Only Survival Guide You’ll Need!

Chances are you’ve seen the aftereffects of a wisdom tooth removal. Between the medication-induced ramblings, the wads of gauze muffling speech, and the comically swollen cheeks, it’s impossible not to laugh at the victims of this oral surgery! That is, until it’s your turn.

On the dreaded day my dentist pulled up my x-rays and pointed out those sneaky teeth growing in behind my molars, it didn’t seem so funny anymore. Suddenly, I felt a tight knot growing in my stomach. This was my first time having major surgery, and I had no idea what to expect. What could I eat? What would the swelling be like? Would I be able to talk? These questions swirled in my head, building my anxiety until the day of my surgery arrived and I had no choice but to find out as I healed. So, without further ado, I present my wisdom teeth removal survival guide, the all-encompassing resource I wish I’d had. 

Wisdom Teeth: What’s the deal with them anyways? 

The term “wisdom teeth” refers to the four teeth that grow in the upper and lower back corners of the jaw (highlighted in red). They typically grow between the ages of 17-25, and are sometimes called the “third molars.”

Wisdom teeth are vestigial structures, or body parts that no longer serve their original purpose and are generally useless in their modern form. In ancient times, human diets consisted of plants, raw meat, nuts, tree roots… pretty much anything our primitive ancestors could get their hands on! However, this diet was rough on our teeth, which is why they needed backup ones: hence, wisdom teeth. 

However, unlike our ancestors, we no longer have the need or have room for our back up teeth so when wisdom teeth erupt, or grow in, they can become impacted. 

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause intense pain or infection in the gums and teeth around them depending on the angle they grow in, or the length of the roots. If the roots, or leg-like projections at the bottom of the tooth grow too long, they can hit a nerve in your jaw which causes facial numbness, temporary paralysis, and pain. 

With all these negative side effects, it seems like removal is the obvious choice! And yet some people’s wisdom teeth grow just fine. Luckier still are those born without wisdom teeth entirely! (Although that is a small percentage of the population.) Most individuals are born with at least one wisdom tooth, and most wisdom teeth require extraction. 

So, what should I expect from surgery?

Typically once your wisdom teeth have grown in, your orthodontist or dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon, or you can pick one based on your or your family’s priorities. You will then have a consultation with the surgeon, where they will determine which teeth need to be removed, go over sedation and medication options, and the cost of the procedure. 

The procedure is usually done with some combination of local anesthesia, nitrous oxide, intravenous anesthesia, and general anesthesia to manage pain. Most individuals prefer to be unconscious during the procedure, but the choice is ultimately yours. (Although the surgeon will generally recommend what they think is best for your specific case.)

Depending on the type of anesthesia you decide on, you may be asked to refrain from eating and drinking for 12 hours or more leading up to the procedure. When you go in for the surgery, prepare to be driven home by another individual, such as a friend or parent, as the aftereffects of the surgery and medications can last a few hours post operation. 

Most people experience immediate swelling and bleeding following the surgery, however the bleeding should stop within the first hour. The swelling, however, has only just begun.

I’ve had the surgery, now what?

Post-op, prepare to be just as loopy as the individuals in those viral video compilations. Some people might be back to normal in no time, but it’s best to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when you’re wrong!

Swelling typically starts the day of surgery and, unfortunately, it usually gets worse. And if you think that’s bad, just wait until you find out that the pain gets worse, too! In most cases, swelling and pain reaches its peak around three days after the surgery, and slowly returns back to normal over the next few days. Again, this is completely dependent on your body, and the healing timeline is different for everyone! 

In my case, the swelling peaked around day four and was completely back to normal after about 10 days- much longer than most. I also experienced some bruising on my face and along my jawline, which may look scary but is totally normal and will fade with time!

To manage pain and infection, your surgeon will usually prescribe pain relief medications such as extra strength ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and antibiotics. It is absolutely critical that you follow your surgeon’s instructions for these medications, unless you have discussed an alternative care plan with another doctor. 

This sounds absolutely terrible. What can I do to make it better? 

After the surgery, you will be left with stitched up wounds where the teeth used to be. Your priority during recovery is making sure that the scabs, or blood clots that form over the wounds, stay in place. 

The first few days after the surgery, your doctor may suggest that you refrain from regular brushing and flossing, in order to avoid aggravating the wounds. Instead, they may suggest a warm salt water rise in the morning and night, and after eating. This will help keep the area clean and fight infection, which will also help manage pain. So basically, it’s a win win! Gentle brushing is encouraged once the wounds begin to heal, avoiding the areas closest to the surgical sites. 

If possible, you should get as much rest as you can after the surgery. Strenuous activity, including walking and talking, can dislodge the scabs covering the wounds, delaying the healing process and putting you at greater risk for infection. 

However if you accidentally rip a scab, don’t panic! It is usually pretty easy to tell, because it will begin bleeding almost immediately. If this happens, take a piece of sterile gauze and dampen it with warm, clean water. Place the gauze in the area where the blood is coming from, and bite down hard on it for at least 15 minutes, or until the bleeding stops and the gauze is easily removable. If the gauze feels stuck, gently sip water directly from a cup (no straws!) until the gauze is wet again and can be removed. 

Applying ice packs to your face almost constantly throughout the first few days after surgery will drastically help manage pain and swelling, and after a few days you may wish to apply heat packs to your face as well. My best friend during my recovery was this hot pink cold and warm pack that wrapped around my whole head and velcroed together, which freed my hands for instagram scrolling and netflix binging!

What can I even eat?

Following a liquid and soft food diet is crucial to a quick recovery. My go-to meals during this time were applesauce, yogurt, blended soups, mashed potatoes, ice cream, smoothies, and nutrition drinks, such as premade protein shakes. After a few days, try incorporating softer solid foods, such as soft scrambled eggs, oatmeal and squishy bread. 

Whatever you do – DON’T drink from a straw (the sucking motion can dislodge the scabs), DON’T eat crunchy foods, and DON’T eat foods like quinoa, seeded bread or berries (yes- even in smoothies), which have grains and seeds that can get stuck in the wound site and cause dry sockets, which are super painful! Also try to avoid anything too acidic, like orange juice or pineapple, and don’t drink carbonated beverages or soda until at least a few days after the surgery, as the bubbles can disrupt the blood clots. 

Concluding Thoughts

So, there you have it. Everything I learned and experienced this November when all four of my useless wisdom teeth were forcibly removed from my jaw. Look, I get it, surgery is really scary. Especially one with so many aesthetic consequences and possibly extreme side effects. But trust your surgeon! 

Wisdom teeth removal is one of the most common procedures taught and practiced, and at the end of the day, it’s going to work out just fine. The worst side effect is usually the embarrassing videos your younger sibling takes when you aren’t looking! So keep an eye out for suspiciously angled phone cameras, follow your doctor’s instructions and good luck!