The main goal of dentistry is to preserve your natural teeth and keep them healthy for as long as possible. There are times, however, when it is in your best interest (or your child’s) to have a tooth extracted (removed). This could be the case for a variety of reasons:
Trauma or Disease — In both of these situations, there are several ways to try and save the tooth. The damaged tooth might need a full-coverage crown, a root canal treatment, or both. But sometimes even these methods are not enough to keep the tooth functioning well and looking good; it might be better to remove the tooth and replace it with a strong and lifelike dental implant.
Orthodontic Treatment — Teeth are sometimes extracted when there are too many of them for the size of the dental arches (jaws), a situation known as crowding. After an adequate amount of space is opened up through the extraction of one or more teeth, the remaining teeth can be aligned properly. The teeth most frequently removed for orthodontic reasons are the first premolars, which are right next to the canines.
Impacted Wisdom Teeth — Early removal of impacted wisdom teeth can prevent damage to neighboring healthy teeth, bone, gum tissue, even nerves and blood vessels. If an impacted wisdom tooth is in a bad position, it’s best to remove it before its roots are fully formed.
Baby Teeth — If a baby tooth is out of position or not lost in the right sequence, the permanent tooth underneath it might not erupt normally. In this case, removing the baby tooth could prevent a need for orthodontic treatment later on.
Whatever the reason, tooth extraction is more often than not a very routine procedure. How straightforward this minor surgery is will depend on where the tooth to be extracted is located in the mouth, and what its roots are like. For example, a front tooth with a single straight root is easier to remove than a molar with multiple roots. This is especially true when that molar is a wisdom tooth that is impacted, meaning it is below the surface surrounded by gum tissue and bone. Often, a wisdom tooth is blocked from fully erupting (growing in) by other teeth in its path.
Still, tooth extraction is nothing to be feared when done by an experienced hand. Keep in mind that a tooth is not rigidly fixed in its surrounding bone, though that’s how some may picture it. In fact, it is attached to the bone via a network of fibers that form what’s known as the periodontal ligament. By carefully manipulating the tooth, these fibers can be detached and the tooth freed without much trouble.
In most people, the third set of molars, generally called “wisdom teeth,” start coming in around age 17-25. However, the arrival of these teeth is often far from trouble-free. The extraction (removal) of one or more third molars is a relatively common procedure, performed on some 5 million patients every year. After a thorough examination and diagnostic tests such as x-rays or a CT scan, you may be told that you should have your wisdom teeth extracted. Here are some typical reasons why:
Your jaw may be too small to accommodate all your teeth, leading to excessive crowding and the chance of your wisdom teeth becoming impacted — that is, unable to emerge from the gums, and potentially harmful to adjacent bone or teeth
Your wisdom teeth may be erupting (coming in) in a crooked orientation, which can damage other teeth or anatomical structures in the jaw, and/or cause bite problems
If your wisdom tooth does not fully erupt (emerge from the gums), it can increase the chance for bacterial infection
A cyst (a closed, fluid-filled sac) may develop around the unerupted wisdom tooth, which can cause infection and injury to the adjacent bone or nerve tissue.
Whether it is aimed at preventing future problems or needed to alleviate a condition you already have, the extraction of wisdom teeth can be an effective treatment. But, as with all medical procedures, its benefits must be weighed against the small risk of complications and should be discussed in detail.
Tooth extraction procedures today are far less painful than ever before, thanks to powerful anesthetics and sedatives. In many cases, a patient who has a tooth pulled experiences little or no discomfort, and only minor bleeding.
The first step in any extraction is a radiographic (x-ray) examination to assess the position of the tooth roots and the condition of the surrounding bone. This will allow any possible complications to be anticipated. A thorough medical and drug history is taken, to ensure that you are healthy enough to undergo the procedure, and your options for anesthesia will be discussed.
Tooth extraction is usually carried out with local anesthesia, which will numb the teeth to be removed, and the surrounding bone and gum tissues. Additional sedatives might also be used, including oral sedatives (taken in pill form), nitrous oxide (which is inhaled) and/or conscious sedation, which is given intravenously (into a vein). The latter is usually required for more complicated (or multiple) tooth extractions. By the time the sedation medication has worn off, you won’t even be aware that the surgery was done.
Once you have been appropriately anesthetized, the gum tissue at the extraction site may need to be opened if the tooth is impacted. The tooth itself will then be gently removed. As your tooth is being removed, steps are taken to ensure the bone that surrounds it isn’t damaged. Sometimes, in the process of removing a tooth, a small amount of lab-processed bone-grafting material is placed into the socket to help preserve the bone volume there. This is particularly important when the extraction is going to be followed at some point by the placement of a dental implant, which needs to fuse to existing bone, or orthodontics, which gently moves teeth through bone.
Immediately after your tooth is extracted, the socket will be covered with sterile gauze; gentle pressure will be applied for 10-20 minutes to control any bleeding from the extraction site. Small sutures (stitches) might also be used for this purpose. We also recommend resting with your head elevated on pillows to help the clotting process.
It’s normal to experience some mild to moderate post-operative discomfort and/or swelling. Taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and/or aspirin the day of surgery should control most symptoms. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to ensure infection-free healing.
Smoking, vigorous brushing and rinsing, and drinking liquids through straws are discouraged during the post-operative period because they hinder healing and may cause the wound to open. Also, be careful when brushing or putting anything in your mouth until your healing is complete.
Cold compresses applied to the outside cheek near the extraction area can help reduce any swelling and promote faster healing. Eating softer foods, and rinsing the mouth with warm salt water a few days after the procedure until you feel more comfortable can also be helpful. Be sure to follow the post-operative instructions you are given, as each case is a little different. Within a few days, all should be back to normal!