Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Removed:
By Stephanie Lynn, age 24, Massachusetts
Since I've recently experienced having my wisdom teeth removed, I thought I'd offer some advice about how to prepare for, survive, and recover from your surgery. Your oral surgeon or dentist will give you some basic information about this, but I will offer some information not necessarily included in the literature they give you. I will share with you what I did to get ready for the day, my experience with the surgery itself, and how you can eat more than applesauce and Jell-O afterwards. If wisdom teeth removal is ahead for you, even if not for a few years, I suggest that you bookmark or print this article for when you're ready. Feel free to share this with any friends or family members, so it can be of help to them as well.
On October 20th, 2009, I had my wisdom teeth removed, and I believe it was the right time for me. A typical age to start thinking about getting your wisdom teeth removed is around 17-19 years old. Your dentist will usually start talking about your wisdom teeth around this time after taking updated x-rays. Often people wait to get their wisdom teeth out until they have pain or discomfort, which means they can be getting teeth out well into their 30s or 40s. I highly suggest getting it done during your older teen years or early-mid twenties, whether or not you are experiencing pain. One of the main reasons for this is that it's much easier to have it done when you are younger. What happens with people who wait is they usually only get one or two out at a time, having to return to the oral surgeon as many as 3 or 4 times in their lifetime. I suggest getting all of them done at the same time, so you will only have to go through this experience once.
I just wanted to share some basic wisdom teeth information for those who are interested. Everyone has a different number of wisdom teeth that begin to develop when they are about 9 years old. Interestingly, some people never develop any wisdom teeth, while others could get as many as seven or more. I had 3, including one upper right, one lower right, and one lower left. I never developed a tooth on my upper left side. All three of mine were impacted, which means there was not enough room for the teeth to break the gum and move into position. There are several scenarios, both minor and major, that can happen whether wisdom teeth are impacted or not. You won't know what the situation is for you until you have x-rays done, so it's important to gain ongoing feedback from your dentist.
First of all, you will need to choose a good day for the surgery. You will need to take at least four straight days to recover. (I will go more in depth in Part 2.) If you're having your wisdom teeth out during the summer, when you're not in school or working, then any sequence of days should work for you. But, realistically, you will probably need to take a few days off from school and/or work. If you have the surgery on Thursday, and you take Thursday and Friday off, then you'll also have the weekend to recover. You could take Friday off, but keep in mind you will probably not be ready to return to school and/or work on Monday. These surgeries are most often done in the morning, and you are not allowed to eat or drink anything from midnight on (or about 6-8 hours before the surgery), if you are receiving anything other than a local anesthetic.
Quick Tip: Keep in mind, if you go back to school/work on the fifth day following your surgery, then you'll need to come off the prescription pain meds in order to drive yourself where you need to go and so that you won't be loopy all day long, getting nothing much accomplished.
I did several things to prepare myself the night before the surgery. You can also do these preparations on the morning of the surgery, but I found I was able to keep myself more rested and relaxed by prepping the night before. You'll want all of these items in place, so you can just rest and eat as soon as you get home from the doctor's. The first thing you'll need to do is choose a space, preferably in front of the TV. You can choose either a bed or couch, wherever you feel comfortable. Whichever you choose, you'll have to prop up your pillows because you can't lay flat for a few days following the surgery. I found that four pillows sufficed, so I could sit up to eat or stay up while sleeping. I'm sure two or three would be enough though.
I chose my bedroom, considering it has an HDTV, along with a DVD player and videocassette player. I requested about 10 DVDs from my local library system about a week in advance, so they would be in on time. I also collected DVDs and VHSs that I owned and set them in piles in my room where I could get to them easily. You can place magazines and books on a table or floor by your bed or couch as well, but keep in mind that if you're on pain meds, they may make you drowsy and/or dizzy, making reading sometimes difficult. But it's great to have them within reach just in case you want them.
You should have all of your necessities in order, such as ice packs, heat pads, and food. Furthermore, I suggest using the following as well: 1) Obtain a simple food tray, so you can eat in bed and/or easily transport food and drink from your space to the kitchen, and vice-versa. I just used a plain pink tray, not one of those "breakfast-in-bed" types, for the many bowls, spoons, and napkins needed at a given time. Either tray type will do. 2) You'll need some table space. Even if you clear some space on a coffee table, night stand, or end table, you'll need a surface for all of your important items, such as your meds, ibuprofen, chapstick (or Vaseline), drinks (water, tea, juice, or soda), and any guides given to you by your surgeon. It's also good for other items such as your cell phone, hair brush, iPod and iPod dock/stereo, and anything else you might need or want close by. 3) Set a pile of paper items such as tissues, paper towels, and napkins out on your table and food tray. You'll especially want these items within arm's reach on the first day, at meal times and whenever. 4) Have a trash bin nearby, especially during the first day or two, so you can throw away gauze and any other trash without having to leave the bed each time. It's also good to have it nearby in case you feel nauseous. 5) Finally, you'll need a notepad or journal. I'll explain the usage for this fully in Part 2.
Quick Tip: The night before the surgery, right before I went to sleep, I applied a thick coat of chapstick to my lips. The next morning they were soft and didn't crack during the surgery. You could also use a thin coat of Vaseline.
The Morning of the Surgery
You'll want to wear a short-sleeve shirt, such as a t-shirt, and preferably one that is slightly loose. If you're being sedated, they'll need to put electrodes below your collar bones and on your belly. You should also choose one you wouldn't mind if a spot of blood were to get on. This probably will not happen, but you want to be comfortable. Don't wear something expensive that you love. This is surgery, not a fashion show. I also wore jeans, and laid out my sweatpants so I could change as soon as I got home. If you wish, you can wear sweatpants or shorts to the surgery, but that is up to you. Again, just be comfortable! Finally, make sure your pillows are propped up and you have all of the preparations I mentioned in place before you leave. You'll have to bring someone 18+ years old and responsible, who will drive you home after the surgery, especially if you're been sedated, which is likely.
Now that you're all prepared for your surgery, you'll want to stay tuned for Part 2 of this article duet in the December issue. I'll take you through the surgery, what you should do immediately when you get home, the first few days of recovery, and how to eat well afterwards.