In middle school, my dentist noticed that my wisdom teeth were developing.
I assumed that they would never be removed, but I was proven wrong. I found out I was not alone. According to the Crest Pro Health website, approximately 85 percent of teenagers and young adults in the United States have their wisdom teeth removed.
As I was putting makeup on in front of a mirror one morning earlier this year, I saw that some of my top and bottom teeth were slightly overlapping. Having never needed braces, I thought this new observation was peculiar. During my checkup at the dentist March 24, I pointed out the spots where my teeth crowded, and the dentist looked at my X-rays. Although the wisdom teeth had not yet emerged from my gums, the dentist believed they may be growing and pushing my other teeth together.
He suggested I consult an oral surgeon to see whether my wisdom teeth need to be pulled. However, I was still hopeful that oral surgery was not necessary.
On April 1, I had a consultation. One of the surgeon’s assistants told me that younger adults are more likely to recover quickly from the operation, as their roots are often not fully formed. This was the case for me, since my wisdom teeth had underdeveloped roots. The assistant also mentioned that since I am 18 years old, having all four of my wisdom teeth pulled now might prevent future problems. Once the roots attach to my jaw, the procedure becomes more difficult and recovery time increases. Other possible problems can come, such as impaction, the blocking of a tooth by a physical barrier (usually another tooth), and nerve damage.
Based on this information, my parents and I decided to have the operation done. I went home from the appointment feeling anxious. The idea of surgery seemed scary. For one thing, I had never gone under the knife before, and I was unsure of what would happen during and after the wisdom tooth extraction.
The surgery was scheduled for the next day, which was during spring break. I was given the options of local and general anesthesia. With local anesthesia, the patient is awake through the procedure but still sedated with nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas). I chose the general anesthesia, because I wanted to be put to sleep while having the surgery.
The morning of April 2, I walked into the doctor’s office. The surgeon’s assistants led me to a room with a heart monitor and a dentist chair. At that moment, it seemed that everything had become more real. I reclined on the chair with a heated blanket thrown over me. The doctors had taken my blood pressure and given me laughing gas for relaxation. Before closing my eyes and falling asleep, I remember having an IV inserted through a vein in my right arm.
I woke up with no recollection of the operation. The doctors helped me into a wheelchair and moved me to the car. I was happy that the surgery was over. The recovery process was more intimidating to me than the procedure itself.
My lips, cheeks and chin were numb and swollen, and would remain swollen for the 10 days following surgery. After arriving home, I rested with two ice packs on both sides of my face.
Later, my mother gave me a Boost nutritional drink, since protein helps patients recover faster by repairing tissue. When I swallowed, the sockets in my mouth became sore from the cool temperature of the drink. It felt as though an ice cube was there instead. I realized that the numbness had worn off.
The doctor had instructed me to bite down on the gauze and put pressure on the wound, but doing this only made the pain worse. The doctor had also recommended that new gauze be placed in my mouth every 20 minutes until the bleeding subsided.
My surgeon had mentioned that stitches help reduce bleeding, but that they also increase the patient’s chance of getting infection. According to the Mayo Clinic website, stitches are not always necessary following wisdom tooth extraction. In this case though, tight and closed stitches would help decrease the rapid bleeding in my sockets. These stitches would dissolve into my gums and didn’t require removal.
I took out the gauze later that night. The bleeding had slowed down and stopped.
Still, I had to follow post-operation procedures. According to WebMD, blood clots begin to form in the sockets to close the wounds. Dislodging the blood clots is a primary cause of dry socket, which is a dental condition that involves aching in the wounds for five or six days. Blood clots can be washed away from swishing, sucking and spitting motions. Infections can be caused by food getting into the sockets.
My doctor told me that elevated blood pressure from anxiety or physical activity could increase blood flow and bleeding. For the first 10 days after surgery, I had to refrain from doing vigorous exercise, eating solid foods and drinking out of a straw, as well as using mouth wash. I also had to avoid the sockets when brushing my teeth, wash my mouth with saltwater after each meal, and sleep with my head elevated at a 45-degree angle. Meanwhile, I took antibiotics and ibuprofen several times a day. Nausea pills were also prescribed by the surgeon to curb post-surgical queasiness.
The recovery routine proved to be an adjustment. I had to stick to fluids and eat soft foods in small bites. Most of the time, I was reluctant to eat or drink, afraid that I would bleed again. Sitting on the couch for the last few days of spring break was not what I planned. The time in the house that would otherwise be spent outdoors gave me cabin fever.
When spring break was over, I returned to school. Even then, I was cautious.
For the first week in PE class, I didn’t participate in the activities, as most of them involved cardio and heavy lifting. Singing in choir and socializing with friends were both challenging with a swollen face. Whenever I talked, my speech was thicker. Finally, when I came home from school, I often went straight to bed. This was out of character for me; I am one who refuses to take afternoon naps.
Despite its inconveniences, I realize recovering was not all that bad. Even though it felt like forever, the healing process was fairly quick. The pain and swelling gradually disappeared. As a result, I regained my ability to sing and speak clearly. I also felt well enough to go on a road trip, finish my senior project, and keep up on schoolwork. On Day 10, the saltwater rinse, ice packs and prescribed medications became history.
After approximately three weeks, my sockets were healed. I went back to my old habits. This especially meant enjoying my favorite meals and going on long hikes.
Looking back, oral surgery seemed like a big deal when I had my wisdom teeth removed. Despite being scared, everything eventually turned out all right.
I am glad I had the operation, since this may have prevented future medical problems.
However, I am also relieved it is now behind me.