This year I tackled one of my greatest fears… getting my wisdom teeth removed. Why did I wait until I was 24 you might ask? I’ve disliked the dentist ever since I was little. Maybe it’s because I’ve had my share of cavities? I’m not sure. As far as I was concerned, wisdom teeth extraction was like staring into the Eye of Sauron and surviving.
When I was in high school and everyone was getting their wisdom teeth removed I heard so many horror stories. My classmates were all too happy to share them with me. One person choked on their own blood while sleeping. Another became addicted to Vicodin. My poor friend said she woke up from the surgery and promptly vomited everywhere, ripping all her stitches because unbeknownst to her, she had an allergy to the anesthetic.
After hearing all of these frightening tales it isn’t surprising that I was keen on delaying this impending doom for as long as possible. This post is very long and detailed; its purpose is to assuage the worries of those who might also be afraid of wisdom teeth extraction. I hope this helps you know all your options as well as what you might expect. This topic is broken into three parts because I have a lot to cover. Everyone’s experience is different and mine is a little unique as you will find out later.
Underneath it all I was afraid that I wouldn’t wake up. After examining this fear I ultimately realized that I was afraid of death. While this isn’t illogical per se, it also isn’t something I have control over. Therefore, we cycle back to what I believe that I am meant to learn during my lifetime- how to let go. It is a work in progress.
What I did have control over however, was which oral surgeon or dentist I went to. I scoured Yelp for a couple of days and found a five star oral surgeon in my insurance network and voila- I booked my consultation appointment and surgery date. After all these years I finally felt ready.
At the consultation the X-rays indicated that I had four wisdom teeth, one of which was impacted. I already knew this. One of the reasons that motivated me to get them out in the first place was that my teeth were shifting, causing me frequent headaches. According to the doctor, none of them were next to a nerve which was fortunate. The longer you wait, the more likely this becomes.
My oral surgeon advised that the best route for my particular case (an impacted tooth, and anxiety about the surgery) would be a twilight sedation via moderate IV anesthesia. The surgery would take about 45 minutes but it would feel like 20. I probably wouldn’t remember anything afterwards. I’m not kidding I almost had a panic attack during the consultation. I reminded myself that I only had to do this once and then it would all be over for good.
There were a lot of strange rules. No jewelry other than my wedding ring, no open toed shoes, no makeup, short sleeves only and no food or liquids (even water!) after midnight prior to surgery. The fasting after midnight part made it seem all too real and serious. I’ve never had surgery of any kind before and the weight of it was difficult to accept.
I spoke to many friends and coworkers after the consultation and almost everyone (including my boss) took pills before the surgery. Only one person had it done with IV sedation. The IV aspect was bothering me. Was it a ploy for the oral surgeon to make more money? He didn’t seem like the type, but you never know. I scoured the message boards, particularly one entitled Dental Fears. On the forums people shared their wisdom teeth stories and some said they had them removed using local anesthetic only or local anesthetic with nitrous (laughing gas). The latter was appealing to me and I wondered why my oral surgeon hadn’t mentioned this option.
I called the oral surgery office and told the nurse I was interested in exploring options other than the IV sedation. She told me that the IV was safer than pills because it was more predictable and that exact dosages of the sedative could be monitored and modified. It was safer because they had more control over it. They also had a crash cart on hand in case of a cardiac incident. She said the doctor would do the surgery under local anesthetic if I preferred, but not in combination with nitrous with someone who has anxiety because it can cause a racing heart to beat even faster which was dangerous. I told her I trusted the doctor and would opt to go the route of IV sedation (light though rather than moderate).
Two nights before the surgery I had a minor freak out before bed. The reality of what was going to happen began to truly sink in and I cried a little before falling asleep. I expected more of the same the next day but it seemed I had gotten those lingering emotions out of my system. I was finally mentally prepared and slept like a rock the night before the surgery.
The day of I felt oddly calm. I had accepted my fate. In the lobby I filled out all the paperwork stating I wouldn’t hold the doctor liable for anything that might happen as a result of the surgery. I kissed my husband goodbye and then I was taken to the surgery room. The room had large windows with a nature view that put me at ease. The smiling nurses comforted me as they put in the IV and the surgeon distracted me by talking about kids and pets. They put oxygen tubes in my nose and all I remember is getting really tired and asking, “Can I go to sleep?” I heard a, “Yes,” and everything softly faded to black.
The next thing I knew there was a fluttering at the edge of my consciousness. I heard something about “fractured jaw” but it didn’t alarm me. I woke up and I wasn’t in any pain. The nurse helped me into a wheelchair and wheeled me over to where my husband and the doctor were standing. The doctor explained that the one impacted tooth was more difficult to extract than previously believed. He said my jaw was probably fractured although there was a small chance it might be broken. He wanted to wait until the follow up appointment to do more x-rays which would give me time to recover. However, I would definitely be eating soft foods for 4-6 weeks rather than the normal week or so that most people endured.
This news while disappointing, was not very surprising to me. I half expected something to go wrong and I was just grateful to be alive.
Part 2 will discuss my recovery.