If you haven't already, you'll likely have a conversation with your dentist about your wisdom teeth at some point. When these four new teeth erupt, they're not only more difficult to clean due to their location at the back of the mouth, but they also may not fit comfortably in the mouth. This means removing them is often the best option for your oral health.
Though this surgery is a common procedure and usually goes well, wisdom teeth removal complications can occur. Anywhere from 2.6% to 30.9% of patients experience complications from wisdom tooth removal, according to a study in the American Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Being prepared for these possibilities is key to appropriately handling or even preventing them. Here are five of the most common complications to help you jump-start a discussion with your dentist.
1. Alveolar Osteitis (Dry Socket)
After a tooth is removed, a blood clot forms over the extraction site as a normal part of the healing process. Alveolar osteitis, also known as dry socket, can develop if this blood clot is dislodged. A study in the Journal of Oral Health and Dental Management reported 3.3% of patients between the ages of 11 and 80 experienced dry socket. The study found that the condition was more common among smokers and more likely to occur in the lower jaw. According to the National Health Service (NHS), dry socket can happen three to five days following extraction. Signs include a throbbing pain and unpleasant smell or taste in the area. Your dentist, upon diagnosis of dry socket, will clean debris from the site and cover it with a medicated dressing that will need to be changed often until it heals.
2. Pain and Swelling
Pain and swelling are expected after an extraction, though the extent varies by person. In the American Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery study, men reported less pain than women. Though pain is subjective, the study cited that, in the first day following surgery, 53% of patients had mild pain and 47% had severe pain. Only 15.2% had severe pain within one week after surgery. The amount of pain and swelling may be connected to how long the surgery takes. As the NHS describes, your dentist may advise taking over-the-counter pain medications, eating a soft diet and avoiding strenuous physical activity to relieve your symptoms.
3. Limited Mouth Opening
After a prolonged dental procedure like an extraction, you may experience trismus, or a limited ability to open the mouth, explains an article in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. Patients between the ages of 17 and 25, especially those who have an impacted wisdom tooth, are more likely to experience this condition. Your dentist will identify the underlying cause of the issue and guide you on the use of heat therapy, pain medications, muscle relaxants and jaw opening devices, as needed.
4. Excessive Bleeding
The American Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery study found 30.7% of patients experienced excessive bleeding on the first day after wisdom tooth extraction. The amount of bleeding depended on the anatomy of the tooth removed. According to an article in The BMJ, to help minimize the chances of bleeding after surgery, your dentist will advise you to avoid smoking, rinsing the mouth and undertaking strenuous activity for one day following treatment.
5. Lip Numbness
The wisdom teeth are close to the inferior alveolar nerve running through the jaw. If the nerve becomes damaged during an extraction, it can lead to lip numbness. However, out of 101 patients in the American Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery study, only two reported lower lip numbness after wisdom tooth extraction. This complication can spontaneously resolve, and does within two months in about 96% of patients. As the NHS assures, your surgeon will minimize the possibility of nerve damage while removing the tooth or teeth and will inform you of your risks for this complication prior to surgery.
The American Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery study explains that the risk for wisdom teeth removal complications depends on your gender, age, overall health, medications, oral hygiene, smoking habits and the position of the tooth relative to your unique anatomy. Discussing your procedure with your dentist beforehand can help illuminate your personal risks and alleviate your concerns.