Dentists have been performing tooth extractions for years, but thankfully modern medicine and technology have made the process much easier than it once was. Thousands of Americans get one or more teeth removed each year due to problematic wisdom teeth or damaged teeth, but the thought of having it done still causes distress for some patients. Understanding the need for tooth extractions as well as how they work and what recovery looks like can put a patient at ease by simply knowing what to expect.
Why Tooth Extractions Can Be Needed
People can have their teeth extracted at almost any age. It can begin with young children that are losing their baby teeth and extend all the way up to an elderly person who is having oral health issues. The process is common but should only be performed when necessary.
Some of the more common reasons for tooth extractions include:
- Wisdom teeth removal
- Extreme tooth decay
- Infection of the tooth
- Periodontal disease
- Broken teeth that are beyond repair
- Teeth crowding
- Poorly positioned teeth (impacted teeth)
By pulling a tooth, the dentist may be able to help reduce the presence of harmful bacteria that can wreak havoc on your teeth and gums. For many people, removing wisdom teeth may actually increase their oral health.
Important Things to Know About Preparing for Tooth Extractions
Although it is a common procedure, when having one or more teeth removed there are things a person should do to prepare.
Provide a detailed medical history for your dentist, taking care to name any other medical conditions as some could require advanced monitoring during the procedure. If the dentist deems it necessary, they may ask a patient to take an antibiotic prior to the extraction if infection is a concern. This is often done with patients that have certain medical conditions.
Patients who receive general anesthesia must have someone with them to safely drive them home after the procedure is completed.
How Tooth Extractions Work
One of the largest determining factors of how tooth extractions work is the circumstances surrounding them, such as teeth that are visible, not visible, or broken. While the extraction of visible teeth is usually a simple and straight forward process, removing teeth that are impacted or broken can understandably prove to be a more complex procedure.
For most tooth extractions the process will begin with a local anesthetic designed to numb the affected tooth, adjacent teeth, gums, and jawbone. This is done to keep a patient more comfortable and lessen if not eliminate the pain they feel at the moment of the extraction. Once the area has become effectively numb, the dentist can begin the extraction process.
Many patients report feeling pressure in the oral cavity at the time of a tooth’s removal. This feeling can come from the dentist moving the tooth back and forth to assist in widening the socket for an easier removal. The pressure may feel unnatural, but it is normal and is generally not accompanied by pain thanks to the local anesthetic.
Unfortunately, rocking the tooth to widen the socket is not always effective. In cases like these, the dentist may be required to section the affected tooth. This involves cutting the tooth into sections and removing them one at a time instead of removing the tooth as a whole. This is usually done only in the following two scenarios:
- A tooth is anchored securely in the socket and is not budging
- A tooth’s root is curved in a way that the socket is unable to expand enough for removal
After the tooth has been successfully removed either as a whole or in sections, the dentist will ensure the gum socket is clean and smooth out any remaining bone. It could be possible for the gum to need to be closed up with sutures or stitches.
Once a tooth has been removed, the area does bleed. To help stop the flow of blood and form a clot, the dentist may ask the patient to bite on a gauze pad for half an hour or more after the tooth is out.
Recovery After a Tooth Extraction
Although most tooth extractions follow a similar process post-procedure, the time in which it takes a blood clot to form and a patient to heal completely from the extraction can vary. This is due in part to the unique circumstances of each extracted tooth such as if it is visible, impacted, or if other complications exist.
After the procedure is complete and a blood clot has formed, it is normal for patients to experience swelling and feel some discomfort or pain as the anesthetic begins to wear off. To help reduce both, many dental health professionals encourage patients to put an ice pack or an unopened bag of frozen vegetables on the affected area. Swelling often subsides within forty-eight hours.
After a blood clot forms from the tooth removal, the patient must take care not to disrupt it. To help keep the blood clot in place and avoid further complications, patients are typically advised not to exercise for twenty-four hours after the removal, as well as avoid the following for twenty-four hours or more after the removal:
- Rinsing the area too strongly
- Brushing the area or adjacent teeth
- Slurping soups or other liquids
- Drinking with a straw
- Drinking alcohol
Should a blood clot at the site become somehow dislodged, it is referred to as a dry socket. This often requires a trip back to the dentist so they can treat the area and prepare for a new blood clot to form.
If at any point following the tooth extraction a patient feels an increasing level of pain, it is essential to let their dentist know right away as they may have an infection that could require a prescription antibiotic. If this occurs, it is necessary for the patient to take the medication as prescribed to properly eliminate the infection.
Two of the biggest concerns patients have about tooth extractions is how they will eat and when they can get back to their normal activities.
It is generally recommended that people eat only soft food on the day of the extraction and the healthier the better. In the coming days, patients should gauge what they eat based on how the site of the extraction feels and what is comfortable, but it is advised to chew with the opposite side of the mouth. This said, most dentists recommend that people who have had a tooth removed do not eat hard or crunchy foods for almost a week as this gives the site more time to heal.
Most people can return to their normal activities a day or two after tooth extractions, however those who experience intense pain, heavy bleeding, and continued swelling may need to wait longer and could require a follow-up dental visit.
For some people, tooth extractions can be an integral part of ensuring oral health care. This procedure is performed by some Houston dentists, but not all. Once you know if you will need a tooth removed, confirm with your Houston dentist that this is something they can do for you.