Rate the pain from sheer agony to soul destroying.
October 4, 2010 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm having 2 wisdom teeth and another out in a couple of days. I'm growing increasing nervous about the procedure. What can I expect?

When I was a teenager I had one wisdom tooth out nad I do not have fond recollections of the experience. I don't recall the specifics, but during the procedure I seem to recall reasonably significant pain, discomfort from the yanking etc. It also seemed to last for quite a long time, maybe 1.5 hours.

After the surgery I didn't move from the lounge for 3 days and barely ate a thing. But I was in a haze from the meds so looking back it didn't seem so bad (though my Mum happily tells stories of how miserable I was during that week or so).

My brother, who is normally much more of a cry baby about things like this, came back from having two teeth out and asked Mum what was for dinner, he was fine!

Now I'm due to get two wisdoms out and another tooth that my wisdom has cracked and damaged quite badly. It was 15 years ago when I got my last one out, will things be better?

My dentist says it will only take half an hour for all 3, and no need to put me under, he'll just give me a few injections. I've been consulting Dr Google and found a whole range of "it was fine, no pain!" to "Hell! Never again!"

One of my colleagues recommended I take a valium beforehand... I've never touched valium before and not sure its a great idea. If it helps me chill out though I'm open to the idea.

So I've come to the hive mind for advice. Assuming my dentist is competent at this kind of thing, how should things go?

I've read the previous posts but most were about post procedure recovery... thats the bit I'm worried least about for some reason!
posted by Admira to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I had mine removed about 10 years ago. I was extremely anxious as well so my Dr. gave me general anesthesia. I was so happy not to remember any of it. Coming out of it was a bit tough. I think I cried because I was disoriented. But that was the worst of it. Otherwise, I just spent several days laying around and eating soft food.

See if GA is an option even if it's not a necessity. Good luck!
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 8:35 PM on October 4, 2010

I'm in Sydney Australia if its relevant BTW.
posted by Admira at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2010

Err. I think wisdom tooth extraction experiences vary tremendously depending on how the teeth are situated/what actually needs to be done.

If your dentist is doing it without general, they must be relatively straightforward extractions. Take an ipod and earphones to help distract yourself during the procedure. I had to go to an oral surgeon to have four teeth that were completely sideways removed. I was under for the whole thing, but it sucked. A lot.

I would not take an unfamiliar-to-you medication before this kind of thing. You really, really, really don't want to throw up after an extraction (ask me how I know).
posted by peachfuzz at 8:38 PM on October 4, 2010

Admira, I dont know how old you are but I do note that you're in Australia so I wonder if, like me, your fear from the dentist stems from having visited the school dentists back in the 80s. I'm 32 and I had to visit these butchers several times during my primary school days and the result of these visits was an immense fear of dentists and an expectation that any visit to one would be severe pain.

Because of this expectation, when one of my wisdom teeth poked through about four years ago, I held out hopng the situation would resolve itself somehow. Also, I was an impoverished university student at the time, so money was an issue as well. In the end, I knew I had to see a dentist, so I made an appointment at the local hospital where I'd get worked on for free.

I sweat bullets while I waited for my appointment to start and when my name was finally called I walked down the hall to the operating room like a man marching to his death on death row.

I told the dentist that I was terrified of people in his profession. He said he understood and would give me some extra local aesthetic, and to tap my hand on the chair if I felt any pain. He said he'd be careful.

So he puts the first needle in my gum. I feel a small, uncomfortable prick in my gum's as this happens, but its not excruciating so my hand, ready to tap at a moments notice, lays idle.

After this I think he put maybe one or two more needles in but didn't feel a thing.

After maybe a few moments, I hear what can only be described as a sound of a door slowly creaking shut inside my head. And then I realise what it was... he'd pulled out my wisdom tooth! It hurt not one bit.

The realisation i made after this is that in the 20 odd years between when I was forced to visit the school dentists and now, dental science has, obviously, come a long way. I guess somewhere along the way dentists realised that what they do to us hurts a lot and better procedures had been invented all in an effort to minimise pain.

Case in point, my wife chipped her tooth a few weeks back. She went to the dentist, they happy gassed her and she says she felt not an inch of pain.

In short, I think you'll do fine. Let the dentist know you're shit scared of him or her and what's about to happen and that you'd be pleased if they can give you some gas or some extra anesthetic. From what I understand, most are more than willing to oblige.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:47 PM on October 4, 2010

It depends on if the teeth are infected, if the infection is affecting the jaw, how the roots of the teeth are, what kind of extraction you're having, and probably all kinds of other things I don't know about. This is why you're getting such a range from google, it's not a single procedure with a predictable outcome.

I had two simply pulled out, which sounds similar to what you're having this time. Their roots were straight and, while the teeth were rotten, the nerves and jaw weren't involved and there was no infection. It was over pretty fast (half an hour for three teeth seems about right) and no pain or anything afterwards.

I also had two cut out surgically because the jaw was infected. They had bent roots and were going to be difficult to extract regardless of the infection (which is why I waited so long that they went nasty). Mine were done under local only and, while it took a while and there was pulling and horrible noises as she cut into my jaw bone to get them out, it didn't hurt as such. I tolerate dental work pretty well though, and it's not uncommon for people to get general anaesthetic for this kind of extraction. After those ones my jaw was swollen for a few days, I could only eat soft food, and I didn't feel great in general for a shortish while. But I'd been in a lot of pain from the infection and I felt like crap before hand, so it's hard to know what was from the extraction per se. This sounds more like what you had last time.

So you'll probably be fine, and definitely be better to get them removed now while it's a half hour yank rather than a surgucal extraction, but it could easily fall anywhere in the spectrum of yuck depending on the things I listed at the start. Discussing all this with the dentist before hand is totally reasonable and he may be able to prescribe a one off dose of something, or use nitrous or whatever else they do with anxious patients (it's pretty common). Either way it should not hurt during, that suggests the dentist hasn't used enough of something, so definitely speak up if something feels uncomfortable.
posted by shelleycat at 8:49 PM on October 4, 2010

Anecdotally, I was pretty worried too and did it with general anesthesia. I had them out (all of them) at 10 AM and by 4 PM I was fine. Ate a normal dinner that night and everything felt fine. I iced it periodically for a few days to make sure it didn't swell, but honestly I'd happily do it all again, it was pretty relaxing.
posted by DMan at 9:02 PM on October 4, 2010

Talk to your oral surgeon about pain management options. I went for the nitrous oxide, and the only two really unpleasant parts of the surgery were the local anesthetic injections (which always suck) and when I waited a little too long to take the percocet the doctor prescribed me. Oh, and also when I accidentally took two percocets at once in my drug addled haze and threw up (make sure you don't do that). My teeth were really easy to get out, though (like, 30 minutes in surgery for all four of them easy), so YMMV.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:04 PM on October 4, 2010

I remember being sedated, and then the doctor asked me what music I wanted to listen to. I said Miles Davis and he put on some crap Eric Clapton / Phil Collins collaboration. Just as I was starting to complain about the music, the anesthesia kicked in and I was out like a light.

When I woke up, the drugs were so good that I was babbling to the nurse in German about Deutschmarks (this was before the Euro) as I was helped out of the dentist's chair. If I had blonde hair and blue eyes, she'd probably have thought I was one of the boys from Brazil, the way I was carrying on.

My mom picked me up and I slept the rest of the afternoon.

The Percocets were also great. I didn't feel much discomfort, just a little painless trickle of blood from the stitches coming out over the next week or so. Nothing, really.

After that, I was feeling so much better. Having those impacted wisdom teeth out made the migraine headaches and misery stop.

Wisdom teeth suck. I would relax and look forward to your new, pain-free (or least much less painful) lifestyle. The first day or two of the drugged-out recovery could be awesome, too.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:14 PM on October 4, 2010

I had two wisdom teeth and they were removed one at a time. The second time I had to go to an oral surgeon but it actually went more smoothly than the first one. I had the procedure done in the afternoon and a friend took me home from the doctor. That was when she taught me how to knit. Then her husband and my husband came over to my house and one of them got dinner for everyone and a milkshake for me. We watched a movie and The Office. It was actually pretty pleasant.

My dad's a dentist and this is what he told my husband when he was having his teeth out (he had all four wisdom teeth impacted): The doctor will give you painkillers and say take 1-2 pills every 4-6 hours - take 2 pills every 4 hours. That said, I think the painkillers did me in the first time. You shouldn't take them on an empty stomach and it's hard to eat after having that done. The painkillers made me sick the first time and I remember that I couldn't focus on anything - couldn't watch TV because I couldn't follow the show, definitely couldn't read.

I've known several people who have had their wisdom teeth out. I've heard one horror story (and my dad's a dentist - that should tell you something). Most of the stories were along the lines of, yeah, it wasn't fun, but it was okay. My sister was 30 when she had hers out and I think she was fine the next day.

Seriously, it'll be okay. It's scary because it's unknown but people go through this every day. It's more or less a rite of passage. And just be up front with your dentist. They don't want you to be miserable. They get that people are nervous. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 9:29 PM on October 4, 2010

I just had a lower molar out on Friday. I went back to work today, and am (carefully) eating solid food again. I have dental anxiety, and took an ativan beforehand, which definitely helped me. I would encourage you to take the valium if you think it will help, just check with your dentist.

I've had some soreness and swelling, but nothing I would describe as pain. I'm just taking ibuprofen now, and that's managing the soreness fine.

The worst of it was the noises that the extraction made (loud cracking noises). That was kind of unpleasant. Not at all painful, but unpleasant.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:36 PM on October 4, 2010

I had a wisdom tooth yanked out with Novocaine (local) and then three under IV sedation. I actually preferred the regular yanking to the sedation. I felt awful for a couple days after the sedation, but was pretty much raring to go after the regular yanking.

Okay, I was horribly nervous before the regular yanking, such to the point it was making my dentist nervous. She was also giving me a filling at the same time (Why not pull the tooth out while you're already numb back there!) and I had not had either of these things done before, so it was Unknown Scary. But really it wasn't scary at all. I didn't even get any drugs more than OTC painkillers. The injections kind of suck, and you feel funny (numb) afterward.

My wisdom teeth were, however, probably about as well-positioned as one could hope for an extraction. The bottom ones were already half-erupted, and the roots for the one that got pulled at the dentist's were shaped like a single cone, so all she had to do was twist and pull.
posted by that girl at 9:51 PM on October 4, 2010

I had all four out at once and they were impacted, and it was totally chill, just ached for a few days afterwards and I had a wicked sore throat. I ate a lot of matzo balls.

No worries. Get knocked out first if you don't like having your jaw jacked open.
posted by DoktorFaustus at 9:52 PM on October 4, 2010

I had a very rough time after having all four taken out at once. Pretty intense pain for a week, followed by dull pain for a second week.

Also, I don't think that extractions are typically done under "general anesthesia." At least in the United States, I recall my surgeon saying that GA is typically only done in hospitals or similar settings. (Docs, correct me if I'm wrong!) I had what's known as IV sedation (as that girl describes). I was very, very glad I had it. It basically knocks you out, which is why some people might describe it as general anesthesia. I had a brief moment of consciousness that I recall (where I tried to sing along to Tom Petty's "Free Falling," which was on the radio, despite a whole mess of equipment in my mouth).

I can't imagine having done it without sedation, given that my wisdoms were in poor shape, had to be cracked apart into pieces to get out of my mouth, and as I say, I had all four out at once. Of course, YMMV. Evidently that girl had a bad experience with the after-effects. I didn't, really - I was just in a lot of pain and kept taking Vicodin.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:58 PM on October 4, 2010

How about "it was fine, no pain!" turning into "Hell! Never again!"?

I've only had one out. The procedure itself was a piece of cake - twenty minutes, tops, and I went back to work the same day. Local anesthetic, no sedatives, and the oral surgeon who did it was so good that I didn't even realize it was over. No horrible noises, nothing.

A few days later I developed dry socket, and were it not for copious amounts of Percodan, the next week or so would have been absolute agony. Fortunately this isn't hugely common - Wikipedia says only 1-3% of extractions are followed by this, FWIW, but I thought I'd put it out there in case your dentist didn't. I think if I had known there was a possibility of things going wrong I might have taken a couple days to really rest after the procedure.

Luckily I only had two wisdom teeth to start with. My dentist and I have an agreement: my remaining one will stay where it is unless it causes other complications.
posted by chez shoes at 10:10 PM on October 4, 2010

FWIW I can echo both of the experiences above. My husband has profound dental anxiety but had (impacted, infected) wisdom teeth removed about 5 years ago. The procedure was painless, he was pretty much high as a kite when he came out, and I dragged him home and put him to bed to sleep it off and eat soup for a few days. His pain was managed with painkillers we left the dentist's with.

Prior to that I had two wisdom teeth extracted and again, the proceedure was painless, but like chez shoes I ended up with dry socket. That was really uncool. Fortunately it is also relatively rare but I would never have an extraction without asking for your dentist's procedure for dry socket, an emergency after hours number for him/her, and the number for my nearest late night pharmacy. It's unfortunate when it happens but knowing what you will do if it does makes all the difference.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:26 PM on October 4, 2010

I had one pulled a few months ago.. Novocaine only. It felt odd, like the dentist was prying at my teeth with a screwdriver and plyers (which he was, only the dental versions of those).. it was over in a few minutes. During the procedure there was no pain. Afterwards there was a little. For several days I had minor pain. I also had odd flashbacks of the procedure itself.

I was very careful not to get the dry socket (this happens if the blood clot is washed out) as I heard that was extremely painful. Just be very careful and don't rinse out the hole or brush it or anything.

So overall, I'd say don't worry.
posted by jockc at 10:49 PM on October 4, 2010

I had all 4 of mine out a few years ago, I was under a light IV sedation where I was still somewhat concious, but remember nothing. I think there may have been some anti anxiety drug in the IV too. It was quite standard anesthesia I think (in Canada at least), althought I was at an oral surgeon, not a dentist.

I had absolutely no problems afterward and very little pain. By the time the numbing wore off 12 hours later, it was just a dull ache. I never even needed to take the superstrong painkillers they gave me.

So, I hope another reassuring anecdote makes you feel better!
posted by piper4 at 11:01 PM on October 4, 2010

your experience will vary widely depending on your level of pain tolerance. For me, I've had a lot of work done in my mouth, crowns to root canals to fillings and extractions, so being poked and prodded isn't a big deal to me. Do I wince when the needle goes in my gum? Yes. What I try to keep in mind is that it'll be over and to reassure your brain that "ITS OKAY. Just bear with it.. get through it.. it'll be over soon"

As for during the procedure, I feel better when the dentist/doctor/blood drawer narrates his/her actions to me. I think most will do the "you'll feel a little prick" for injections, but straight up asking "what are you gonna do with that?" might ease your mind a bit.

you'll be fine!
posted by p1nkdaisy at 11:02 PM on October 4, 2010

I didn't have any problems with the actual extraction. They sedated me and next thing I knew I was in the car and then home in bed.

However I managed to catch a virus/flu/something a day or so later and was far more focused on being horribly sick for a few days.

(Then one of the stitches tore out, my cheek puffed up and the oral surgeon opened up his office just for me on a Sunday so he could vacuum pus out of my cheek.)

As traumatic as this all should have been I don't remember being in pain. The root canals I had were far worse.
posted by weskit at 12:09 AM on October 5, 2010

The gum around my bottom right wisdom tooth got infected which was the worst pain I had ever felt. I had to endure a whole weekend of pain until I could finally get the tooth removed on the Monday. The operation itself was the most pleasant experience of the whole saga, given I could feel no pain for the first time since that Saturday morning (had local anesthetic). At the same time I got the top right tooth removed which was no problem. A year or so later I got the other two removed which were fine. Think yourself lucky that you're getting them removed without having to endure infection.
posted by thesailor at 1:51 AM on October 5, 2010

I had 4 done as a teen with novacaine & naproxen for post-op pain. Wasn't a big deal.

My mother-in-law had hers done last week with IV sedation and no pain meds afterwards (extended release meds in the IV) -- she said she had no pain at all and was fine the next day.
posted by MeiraV at 5:04 AM on October 5, 2010

I had all four of mine removed when I was 18. It was a difficult extraction because they were diagnosed "impacted teeth", which meant they were growing in the wrong direction and will potentially hit other nearby teeth or internal tissue/nerves(?) if left in place. I was under general anesthesia and quite thankful for it. It was difficult eating afterwards, but not too bad after a week. I hate the idea of hearing the drilling and looking at all the scary-looking implements going in and out of your mouth even if you can't (supposedly) feel it, so I would've chosen general even if it weren't a difficult surgery. If you have the option, I'd recommend taking that one.
posted by thewildgreen at 5:17 AM on October 5, 2010

It really, really depends on your individual situation, as I think you can see from the answers here.

I had all four of mine removed in college. 3 of them were impacted to various degrees, IIRC. I was sedated (read: out like a light) and had a friend accompany me to get me home afterwards. The sedation made me very happy and silly, and the Percocet also made me very happy and silly.

I was in non-minor pain for longer than the oral surgeon had estimated -- more like 4-5 days instead of 2-3. I had enough Percocet to get me through, so it wasn't really all that bad, but I did end up having to get extensions on a couple of papers because I was still too foggy to finish them.

My husband had significant oral surgery (not wisdom teeth) awhile back with only novocaine during and ibuprofen afterwards. He was hurty for a couple of days and then fine. I'm not even sure he took the ibuprofen after the first day. So YMMReallyV.
posted by somanyamys at 6:28 AM on October 5, 2010

I'm telling you this from experience. I had quite a horrific wisdom tooth extraction in my 20s and when I had one removed last year, this is what i learned:

1. go to an oral surgeon - absolutely, do not let a dentist do it
2. do not be awake (request either anesthesia or demerol sedation, which I got right in my arm and it went well because I don't remember a damn thing). bring someone with you to drive you home.
3. do not let them give you novacaine shots (esp. if they are on the lower jaw; this can cause permanent numbness if that nerve is struck, speaking from experience here)
4. tell the doc ahead of time that you want heavy-duty painkillers for afterward. do not settle for tylenol 3. ibuprofen will help a lot down the road.
5. don't eat afterward; stick to liquids or milkshakes, even if they tell your caretaker to get some food into you before you take the painkillers. otherwise, you could get a dry socket and those suck.
6. no smoking or drinking thru a straw.
7. stay in bed and let yourself recover.
posted by bunny hugger at 7:08 AM on October 5, 2010

I had four (impacted) wisdom teeth out, and my son had seven (yes, SEVEN) teeth pulled at once.

I can't even imagine doing this under anything with just a local painkiller, because the noise alone would get to me. I have an active imagination, and would be making the situation worse by picturing in my head what was going on even if I had my eyes closed, headphones on and was singing, "LA LA LA" at the top of my lungs.

So, when I had mine out, I had general anesthesia. I was given painkillers but went over to tylenol very soon (good experience). I was also given penicillin, at which time I found out I was allergic (bad experience). Because my teeth were impacted, I swelled up, as my partner said at the time, "Like a chipmunk." Could not eat solid foods for a week.

Worst part? Waking up with blood and cotton in my mouth, fever and rash (allergic reaction to penicillin), the taste of my mouth when I couldn't brush my teeth.

My son says he doesn't even remember the procedure at all, and he had Versed. That's good stuff; I've had it and recommend it for minor stuff like teeth-pulling. Total amnesia for procedure. Worst part for him: blood and cotton in his mouth and general sleepiness. Also, he found that hydrocodone (pain meds) makes him feel depressed. Fine once we got him onto ibuprofen or tylenol. Could not eat solid food for days, slept a lot because of the painkillers.

Advice: Go in knowing as much as you can about your reaction to medications. Consider general anesthesia or at least versed. Expect to be out of commission for days.

Pain really was nothing. Seriously, we got off of the painkillers as fast as could be. It was more the inconvenience of having to watch out for the stitches in the back of your mouth, eating soft foods, and the weird taste in the mouth that was the worst.
posted by misha at 10:39 AM on October 5, 2010

Nitrous with headphones on was what I chose and it was just fine. The headphones really help because they distract you from the really terrible noises that happen while they are doing it. I had 4 out at once.
posted by meepmeow at 1:12 PM on October 5, 2010

Just wanted to say I just got home, the whole thing [3 teeth taken out!] was over in 5 minutes, no pain, no gas, just local anesthetic.

Thanks to all, just need to recover now!
posted by Admira at 10:47 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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