It would be nice to think that wisdom teeth are the key to a smarter you, but when your mouth doesn't have enough room to accommodate them they become a nuisance, causing pain, swelling and infection. So if your third molars are impacted, your dentist may recommend removing them. If you are a smoker, there are a few important facts about wisdom tooth extraction and smoking you should know before your surgery appointment.
What Is a Dry Socket?
After a tooth is extracted, writes the Mayo Clinic, a blood clot forms in the empty socket to protect the bone and underlying nerves and to promote healing. If anything interferes with the clot forming or if it is prematurely dislodged or dissolved, intense pain can result within a few days after the surgery. The pain may extend from the socket to your ear, eye or neck, and you may experience a foul taste in your mouth, bad breath and a slight fever. Looking in a mirror, you may see just an empty hole: this is called a dry socket.
If you have any of these symptoms, immediately call your dentist, who will need to clean out the socket and place a medicated dressing. They may also give you pain medication, antibiotics and specific home care instructions.
Most wisdom tooth extractions heal without problems, but oral contraceptives, not following post-operative guidelines and smoking are risk factors that can result in a painful dry socket, according to the University of Michigan.
How Smoking Causes a Dry Socket
Toxins in tobacco smoke can contaminate the surgical site from an extraction and constrict blood vessels, decreasing the blood supply needed for proper clot formation and healing. Also, the action of pulling in smoke from a cigarette can cause enough pressure to dislodge the blood clot. This is why smokers should refrain from smoking for the full recovery period after their teeth are extracted, and even longer if they can.
The International Journal of Dentistry suggests that the level of nicotine and other tobacco-related chemicals found in a smoker's surrounding mouth tissues prior to surgery could also predispose a patient to dry socket. Additionally, the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association (JCDA)advises patients to abstain from smoking for a period of time before the extraction to reduce the possibility of dry socket. The JCDA also advocates not smoking for six weeks after the extraction date.
How Do You Kick the Habit?
If you want to quit smoking but haven't found the motivation, needing to have your wisdom teeth removed might just be the nudge you need. By following your dentist's advice on not smoking before and after surgery, you'll be well on your way to staying tobacco-free for good. Quitting isn't easy, so here are a few pointers offered by Smokefree for implementing a successful plan:
- Choose a date to quit well in advance of your extraction.
- Tell friends, family and your dentist that you are planning to quit and let them know how they can support you.
- Get rid of smoking reminders by throwing out cigarettes, matches and ashtrays.
- Determine the reasons you want to quit. Avoiding dry socket? Saving money? Staying healthy?
- List your smoking triggers, like activities, feelings and even foods that initiate your urge to smoke, and write a plan to avoid each one. Keep your plan handy.
- Develop coping strategies, such as medications and behavior changes, for nicotine withdrawal. Remember that cravings become less of a problem each day you are smoke-free.
- Identify lifelines for immediate help such as support groups, friends you can text, online counselors and apps that track your progress.
Knowing that wisdom tooth extraction and smoking can end in a painful dry socket may be a good reason to quit, but leading a smoke-free life has numerous health advantages. Quitting reduces your risk of oral and lung cancer, gum disease, coronary heart disease and other smoke-related illnesses. You may be losing the wisdom in your teeth, but you can gain some by taking the opportunity to quit smoking.