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How to Recover Quickly After Having Your Wisdom Teeth Taken Out

I've had my wisdom teeth removed, and I will tell you what I did to ensure a healthy and speedy recovery.

Having Your Wisdom Teeth Taken Out

In this article, we will be discussing the surgery to remove your wisdom teeth—and how to ensure a quick and healthy recovery (assuming you are having the procedure done under local anaesthetic).

I have just had the wisdom teeth from my lower jaw removed (I have none in the top jaw), so it seemed particularly pertinent to look into how best to recover from this small operation.

You will only be referred to have your wisdom teeth taken out if they are causing pain, are regularly becoming infected or are impacted — i.e., growing at a wrong angle and affecting other teeth or growing into the gum, making them hard to clean properly, or if they have crumbled.

I was initially referred for the surgery because one wisdom tooth had partially disintegrated, X-rays showed the other wisdom tooth was decaying, and both were partly impacted, growing into the gum rather than erupting properly. Between the time of my referral and the procedure, one did become infected, which was painful.

In the UK, you are very likely to have your wisdom teeth taken out in the hospital by a dental surgeon rather than by your local dentist. This is because the location of the wisdom teeth makes them more difficult to extract, and the lower wisdom teeth often have a more complicated root system than your other teeth. This also makes extraction harder. The advantage of having them pulled out in the hospital is that this is free at the point of service. However, you will have to wait. I waited four months between my initial dental appointment and the wisdom tooth removal date.

In most cases, removal of wisdom teeth takes place under local anaesthetic. You can opt for a general anaesthetic, but there are slightly greater risks if you do so, and recovery from a general anaesthetic takes longer than recovery from a local anaesthetic.

How to Prepare

  1. Before you have your wisdom teeth removed it is important to keep them as clean as possible and prevent infection. The dental surgeon won't remove your tooth whilst it is infected so if need be visit your dentist for an antibiotic prescription.
  2. You might find a mouthwash helps to keep your wisdom teeth clean and infection free if they are impossible to clean thoroughly with a toothbrush.
  3. Give up smoking - if you are a smoker it is worth giving up smoking at least a fortnight before you have your wisdom teeth removed. Non-smokers and ex-smokers have better circulation and immune systems (nhs.uk/livewell 2012) so you will be able to fight off infection and heal more efficiently after your wisdom teeth are removed.
  4. Stock up on soft foods that don't need chewing.
  5. Practice pendulum breathing. This is where you breath in counting to 5 and breath out counting to 5, breath in counting to 4 and breath out counting to 4 and so on — down to 1. This is a useful technique to use whilst you have the local anaesthetic injections.
  6. Take a bottle of water with you to the hospital - having your wisdom teeth removed can leave you with a very dry mouth.
  7. If you are going to the hospital alone, ask a friend if they will pick you up and take you home after the operation. You may not feel well enough to travel alone and you certainly shouldn't drive a car for a few hours following a local anaesthetic. Also the local anaesthetic will make it impossible to take clearly for a few hours, which would make ordering a taxi difficult.
  8. Stock up on painkillers. It is ideal to have one which is ibuprofen based and one which is paracetamol based.
A difficult lower jaw wisdom tooth to extract. This came out in 3 pieces. Note the decay at the crown end (left) and the hooked root (right).

A difficult lower jaw wisdom tooth to extract. This came out in 3 pieces. Note the decay at the crown end (left) and the hooked root (right).

An easy lower jaw wisdom tooth to extract. This came out in 2 pieces. Note the crown which had partially crumbled prior to being removed.

An easy lower jaw wisdom tooth to extract. This came out in 2 pieces. Note the crown which had partially crumbled prior to being removed.

The Operation

The worst part of the operation is the local anesthetic injections into your mouth. You will have 3 for each wisdom tooth that is removed. This is where the pendulum breathing will come in useful. There is no point trying to pretend the injections won't hurt, but doing pendulum breathing whilst the local anaesthetic is being injected will help.

The anaesthetic will completely numb the area around your tooth - the dental surgeon will test this before proceding. A straight forward tooth will be removed in 5 minutes. Top jaw wisdom teeth are usually straightforward. A wisdom tooth with a complicated root system or significant decay can take 45 minutes to remove. For my wisdom tooth removal the first tooth took nearly 40 minutes from injections to completion but the second one only took 5 minutes.

If the first tooth has been difficult to remove the surgeon will offer you the option to have the second one removed at a later date.

During the operation you will feel tugging and pressure, but not pain. You will hear cracks and crunches but this is nothing to be alarmed by. If the surgeon has to cut into the gum to remove the tooth you will receive stitches - I had thee stitches on one side. If one of the teeth breaks through the dentin you will be given a prescription for an antibiotic to reduce the chance of infection.

Tips for a Quick Recovery

There are plenty of things you can do to speed your recovery, but it is important to be realistic. If your wisdom teeth were quick to extract you will recover faster then if one of more of your teeth were difficult to extract.

Immediately after the operation:

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  1. When you get home, take a dose of ibuprofen and rest.
  2. Two hours later have a small liquid meal such as a smoothie or soup at room temperature and a dose of paracetamol – this will act as an anti-inflammatory as well as a pain killer. Do not eat hot or cold food; it will make your mouth hurt more.
  3. If you have been issued with a prescription for antibiotics, take these as instructed.
  4. If any of the tooth sockets bleed fold up some gauze or a cotton handkerchief, place it in the socket and bit down on it to apply pressure, for 15 minutes