I had my wisdom teeth removed last month. I feel like I’ve been initiated into a secret ‘teeth club,’-a club where dentistry is on a whole different level. I’m used to the obligatory, once a year, 5-minute check-up. The dentist reels off the alphabet backwards (or whatever it is they’re doing, reciting those letters!). I get offered some mouth wash, and bish, bash, bosh I am ushered back into the waiting room.
You’ve probably heard the common joke Americans crack about the English having “bad” teeth. Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. However, this could be because I’m the perfect poster child for this joke, with my mellow-yellow teeth due to consuming copious cuppas but – I digress. This post is to share what it’s like to have your wisdom teeth extracted and how different dentistry is in the US than in England. Not the most riveting subject I admit, but useful to some I hope. The curious cat in me would have loved to find out exactly what a treat I was in for.
My wisdom teeth have caused me grief for years. Every few months I’d experience episodes of pain. English dentists advised me to wait as long as I could before removing them. “They may settle in – try to avoid surgery.” This March, I had a different kind of a toothache. The pain woke me up at night and caused permanent headaches. I looked like a bulldog chewing on a wasp. After five days of intense pain, I caved and called an oral surgeon for an appointment. He told me I needed all four out. He elaborated on the surgery – he would need to cut into my gum on both sides. My top left molar had grown in at a slight angle, so it was going to be harder to remove than the rest. He was astounded that my countrymen hadn’t already removed my troublesome teeth, as they were clearly compacted! Gah!
I couldn’t sleep the night before and was bricking it while waiting for my name to be called. This was the biggest medical procedure I’d experienced, besides birth. I’d never been “put under” before and I kept thinking about how my molars were going to be cracked into 4 pieces. *Cue whimpering puppy sounds. * Little did I know that they would also need to drill into my jaw (because the lower teeth were so impacted).
They called my name and I couldn’t move. I shook my head. “I don’t want to go…” The nurse smiled sweetly and said my husband could keep me company for a bit. They attached a heart monitor, connected oxygen to my nose and laid out an array of torture tools on a table. As ugly a photo, this is, these are they:
Thankfully I don’t remember the surgery. All I remember is waking up with a cold compress moving from one cheek to the other. It was then that the fun really began! Below is a link to YouTube of a video showing me waking up from the anaesthesia. My husband found me hilarious (not something he usually attributes to me) and I’m glad he videoed the scene. Apparently your true personality shines through when you awaken from anaesthesia. It seems I regressed to a 5-year-old.
The rest of the day was a blur. I hadn’t eaten since Thursday and didn’t eat again until late Friday afternoon. I managed a small bowl of ice cream but it took me a long time and it was uncomfortable. Before going to bed, I forced down some soup but genuinely wasn’t hungry (this coming from a girl who adores food). The pain had started to set in by now and it woke me up around 2am. It was time to dip into the orange bottle of codeine, which instructed me to eat something first. I sat on our sofa in the dark, dutifully spooning down some yoghurt. I was awoken again at 6am because of the pain – and the same process followed for the next 2 nights.
By Monday evening, I thought I’d stop taking the codeine as I constantly felt drunk. I admit that, at first, it was fun feeling tipsy. However, the novelty had worn off. I couldn’t get anything done! I would be texting my mum and then I’d decide to unload the dishwasher. Making some mash potato would suddenly appeal. Then as I was polishing my jewellery, I recalled that I had left the dishwasher full and the potatoes partially mashed. The other reason I didn’t want to take the codeine anymore was because I was astonishingly constipated…
Unfortunately, by Wednesday, I was in excruciating pain again. I assumed this was my fault for weaning myself off the codeine too soon. I went back to taking it, but the pills weren’t preventing the pain. I thought I was being a wimp and so face planted a hot water bottle for the rest of the day. I was sure I was missing something, they don’t make pills to be useless. Looking back on it I probably should have looked into the type of pills I put into my body and known more about when the pain relief would kick in – perhaps I wasn’t giving it enough time. There can be slow release and fast release after all, as well as gelatine and vegetarian capsules, like with wellness capsules for instance (see here for examples https://www.capsulesupplies.com/vegetarian-capsules/). Either way, in the moment my pain was awful and I had no idea what to do. That poor hot water bottle would be stuck to my face for the foreseeable future!
Thursday was much the same and so I moved my check-up appointment forward. One week after the surgery, I was back in the waiting room. While sitting there, I saw a woman being guided by the arm after having her teeth out. She was swaying, slurring and had a goofy smile plastered across her face. I marvelled at how funny we must all look to the receptionists; how do they keep a straight face? The surgeon took a look at my right bottom jaw and said I had dry socket. I didn’t believe him at first but he could see bone so it was a sure thing. Dry socket is apparently quite rare – I shall let the NHS explain it on my behalf: “Dry socket occurs when a blood clot fails to develop in the tooth socket, or if the blood clot becomes dislodged or disappears. This can happen three to five days after surgery. The empty socket causes an ache or throbbing pain in your gum or jaw, which can be intense. There may also be an unpleasant smell or taste from the empty tooth socket. If you look into the socket, you might be able to see exposed bone rather than a blood clot.”
Secretly I was relieved I had a something to attribute the pain to. To help the dry socket heal, the surgeon stuffed a swab of cloth covered in a clove solution into the hole, where it remained for three days. The clove helps stimulate tissue growth and also incorporates a numbing solution to help ease the pain. Two days after the clove swab had been removed, the pain came back; I was worried the swab hadn’t worked and I still had “dry socket” (hypochondriac much?). I went back to the surgeon four days after having the swab removed. However, having booked the appointment while in pain on Wednesday, by the time I arrived the next day, I knew I was ok. I went in anyways – to get his opinion but the pain had subsided a lot and from that day on, it was onwards and upwards!
Final observations and tips:
- I found my oral surgeon though Cigna – Before deciding who to go with, I used Yelp reviews to help pick
- Do stock up on various soft foods you like. More than you think you’ll need. I got tired of soup very quickly but missed savoury dishes. My favourites were avocado, apple sauce, rice pudding, macaroni cheese, mash potato and porridge (aka oatmeal)
- You may wonder how the pain feels during the healing process. For me, it felt very similar to the toothache pain before the teeth were removed but more intense
- A few days after the surgery, you will need to start cleaning the holes in your mouth. You only need to clean the holes in the lower jaw; gravity sorts out the top set. The holes fill up with all the food you’ve been eating that day. To clean, you get a syringe of warm, salty water and spray the food out. I would find whole grains of rice in there. Pretty gross, but you may kind of secretly enjoy it
- You will probably lose weight; I didn’t believe I would, but I did
- Baptised into the American dental system, I’ve since booked and sat through the most thorough, “routine” dental exam of my life. The appointment lasted over half an hour and the dentist told me that I grind my teeth, which I had never known. The dentist also wagered that I’d had orthodontic care in the UK as a teen. Apparently you can tell by the removal of specific teeth if someone has had braces in one of three countries in the world still using the old procedure. Lastly, he discovered my first cavity by scrutinising a series of x-rays that belied a cavity the naked eye couldn’t catch. I have probably had this cavity for a few years. To conduct a dental examination without the use of x-rays is like trying to read a book with missing pages.
I hope sharing my experience is useful to some of you, and that you enjoyed my video… I’d love to hear from you about any of your wisdom teeth experiences. I had a colleague who was allergic to the clove solution and broke out in a rash all over his body. This led to his skin sloughing off for the following weeks and he was pretty uncomfortable, the poor guy!