What is a Tooth Extraction?
In a tooth extraction, your dentist removes a tooth and its root from the mouth. The tooth removal process can be accomplished in a single dental appointment, aided by either numbing anesthetic or sedation. Patients typically recover within a few days, and the space created by the pulled tooth can be filled with a dental implant, a bridge, or a denture.
When is an Extraction Necessary?
Although permanent teeth were meant to last a lifetime, there are a number of reasons why tooth extraction may be needed. Along with a badly decayed or damaged tooth, other reasons include
- A crowded mouth. Sometimes dentists pull teeth to prepare the mouth for orthodontia. The goal of orthodontia is to properly align the teeth, which may not be possible if your teeth are too big for your mouth.
- An impacted tooth. If a tooth cannot break through the gum (erupt) because there isn’t room in the mouth for it, your dentist may recommend pulling it. This is common with wisdom teeth.
- Infection. If tooth decay or damage extends to the pulp — the center of the tooth containing nerves and blood vessels — bacteria in the mouth can enter the pulp, leading to infection. Often this can be corrected with root canal therapy (RCT), but if the infection is so severe that antibiotics or RCT do not cure it, a surgical extraction may be needed to prevent the spread of infection.
- Risk of infection. If your immune system is compromised — for example, if you are receiving chemotherapy or have an organ transplant — even the risk of infection in a tooth may be enough to pull it.
- Periodontal (gum) disease. If periodontal disease — an infection of the gum tissue and bones surrounding and supporting the teeth — has caused a loose tooth, it may be necessary to remove it.
The Extraction Process
Most extractions are uncomplicated. Typically, your general dentist will review your x-rays to ensure the right tooth, root, socket, and bone conditions are present for a simple extraction. If the tooth is impacted, your dentist must cut open gum tissue to access the tooth. Sometimes, a hard-to-pull tooth must be removed in pieces.
A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area; for more complex extractions, your dentist may choose to use sedation to make the process easier for you. Your dentist will apply slight pressure with a specially designed instrument to gently and gradually ease the tooth from its socket.
Once the tooth has been removed, a blood clot usually forms in the socket. Your dentist will pack a gauze pad into the socket and have you bite down on it to help stop any bleeding. If required, your dentist will place a few stitches — usually self-dissolving — to close the gums over the extraction site.
Occasionally, the blood clot in the socket breaks loose, exposing the bone in the socket. This is a painful condition called dry sockets. If this happens, your dentist will likely place a sedative dressing over the socket for a few days to protect it as a new clot may form.
Tips for Recovering from a Tooth Extraction
The healing process after a tooth extraction is usually straightforward, but it’s important that you follow your dentist’s instructions about caring for the area to avoid pain, swelling, and infection and to prevent dry sockets. In addition, the following can help minimize discomfort and speed recovery:
- Take painkillers as prescribed.
- Bite firmly but gently on the gauze pad placed by your dentist to reduce bleeding and allow a clot to form in the tooth socket. Change gauze pads before they become soaked with blood. Otherwise, leave the pad in place for three to four hours after the extraction.
- Apply an ice bag to the affected area immediately after the procedure to reduce swelling. Apply ice for 10 minutes at a time.
- Relax for at least 24 hours after the extraction. Limit activity for the next day or two.
- Avoid rinsing or spitting forcefully for 24 hours after the extraction to avoid dislodging the clot that forms in the socket.
- After 24 hours, rinse your mouth with a solution made of 1/2 teaspoon of salt and eight ounces of warm water.
- Do not drink from a straw for the first 24 hours.
- Do not smoke, which can inhibit healing.
- Eat soft foods, such as soup, pudding, yogurt, or applesauce, the day after the extraction. Then, gradually add solid foods to your diet as the extraction site heals.
- When lying down, prop your head with pillows. Lying flat may prolong bleeding.
- Continue to brush and floss your teeth, and brush your tongue to help prevent infection. Avoid brushing and flossing the extraction site.
Recovery typically takes a few days, but wisdom teeth and more complex extractions may take up to a couple of weeks.
When your dentist has determined that the extraction site has sufficiently healed, they can proceed with your preferred treatment option for replacing the missing tooth.
Request a Consultation
It’s never a good idea to delay a necessary tooth extraction. If you have a badly damaged or decayed tooth, an infected tooth, or a loose tooth, contact us today to book an assessment. You may not require an extraction, but if your dentist recommends one, we can get you quickly — and painlessly — back on the path to optimal oral health.