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Wisdom from a Man Who Kept His Wisdom Teeth Too Long

Posted on: 08/22/2017 · Estimated reading time: 8 minutes to read

The title alone suggests that it might be presumptuous of me to write this, but don’t let that stop you. I certainly didn’t. Instead, read this if you still have your wisdom teeth yourself, or share it with somebody who does or has yet to get theirs.

Does Having Wisdom Teeth Make You Wise?

Obviously not, but first: what are wisdom teeth? They’re molars, blunt teeth for grinding plant tissue. Imagine your jaw as divided into four quadrants as a dentist might:

  • Upper left
  • Upper right
  • Bottom left
  • Bottom Right

In each quadrant, you get two molars as an infant, and then you get two more when you lose your baby teeth to make room for your permanent teeth. You get others as well, obviously, but it wasn’t my canines or incisors that were giving me trouble lately.

Most people go on to grow a third vestigial molar in each quadrant in their twenties. Because they appear in adulthood, we’ve taken to calling them “wisdom teeth” because people are presumably wiser when they were when they lost their baby teeth. To say that this is not the case is to belabor the obvious.

Extraction is The Root of Wisdom

If I had been wise as a young man in my early twenties, I would have made the earliest available appointment with a local dentist and gotten my wisdom teeth extracted as soon as they began to erupt. That would have been the smart thing to do, because most people don’t have jaws capable of accommodating three molars per quadrant, but the human body doesn’t check to see whether the jaw is big enough before erupting those third molars.

It just does so, consequences be damned. The consequences, incidentally, include the following…

  • Impaction, where the wisdom teeth pushes against an adjacent tooth because there’s no room for it to grow.
  • Cavities, especially in impacted wisdom teeth where food debris and bacteria accumulate because it’s hard to clean back there.
  • Inflammation of tissue covering the wisdom tooth if the tooth is not fully erupted or exposed.
  • Over-eruption, where a tooth sticks out too far and is too sharp because there isn’t an opposing tooth

In my case, the wisdom teeth in my upper jaw rotted away, leaving nothing but exposed roots. From time to time I’d get toothaches as a result, but I always had been content to take some aspirin or ibuprofen and wait it out.

You should never do this. If you’re an adult, you should see a dentist as soon as you experience tooth pain, if you aren’t already seeing one regularly.

Why Did I Wait? Because Reasons

I didn’t get my wisdom teeth removed until today because my parents never took me to the dentist as a kid. It’s also why my teeth are yellow and some of them are crooked. I’ve got a mild case of poverty mouth.

I don’t blame my parents. They had their reasons; dental care is expensive, and my parents could afford to go themselves, let alone take me and my brother. They did the best they could with what they had, fed me well, and made sure I had new toothbrushes and floridated toothpaste so my brother and I could clean our teeth.

As a young adult, I continued my habit of doing without professional dental care because I either lacked dental insurance, or because my dental insurance appeared so inadequate that I decided it was only worth using in emergencies.

Well, the emergency finally happened the weekend before last. I blamed the popcorn at first, because I had gone to see Atomic Blonde with my wife and we had sprung for a tub of popcorn to share. By Tuesday I was sure there was something far more wrong than me biting down on an unpopped kernel.

It turned out one of my wisdom teeth—or the remnant thereof—was infected and I had an abcess. I ended up taking antibiotics for a week, and making an appointment for long-overdue wisdom tooth extraction.

Under The Blade

I had explicit instructions going into the office:

  • No food and drink for at least eight hours prior to surgery
  • Stock up on foods I wouldn’t need to chew
  • Bring somebody capable of driving me home

None of this was hard, though it meant my wife had to take a day off of work too since I didn’t have anybody else I could count on for a ride home. Getting home after having your wisdom teeth yanked isn’t the sort situation where you can just get a ride from Uber or Lyft.

Once I got there I had to read and sign a consent form advising me of all sorts of nasty shit that could happen as a result of my surgery. For example:

  • I might wake up dead.
  • I might lose sensation in my mouth or lips, temporarily or permanently.
  • I might lose my sense of taste.
  • I might breathe in bone chips.
  • I might experience infections as a result of surgery.

I signed, despite the whole possibility of not surviving, because those damn teeth had to go. Though I should have jumped on Twitter to post the following:

Undergoing wisdom teeth extraction. If I don’t tweet in 12 hours, Hell is under new management.

I doubt Catherine would have been amused, but she’s used to such casual blasphemies on my part.

Yes, Virginia, they have the Internet in Hell.

So, here I am writing this post from the depths of the underworld. Yes, they even have the Internet in Tartarus, but those poor bastards are stuck with IE6 and no ad-blocking tools.

First thing I did was tell Persephone she didn’t have to spend half of every year down here just because my predecessor was an asshole and she had the munchies. Next thing I did was give Cerberus a long-overdue bath. Now I’ve got Achilles and Audie Murphy bitching about how the Elysian Fields smell like wet dog.

Just kidding. I got lucky, and I’m not dead yet. I had a competent oral surgeon who understood that I was not used to getting dental care and didn’t insist on merely injecting novocaine into my gums. Instead, I had my wisdom teeth removed while under a general anaesthetic delivered by intravenous drip. Everything between a minute or so after the drip starting and my wife helping me get out of the car and into the house is a blank, so the surgery obviously proceeded smoothly.

However, I had made the mistake of telling the surgeon I still had Tylenol-3 from my previous visit last week. The dentist I had seen for the toothache and abcess prescribed it along with antibiotics for the pain, but I only used it the first couple of nights and made due with ibuprofen during the day so I wasn’t driving to work stoned on codeine.

I took two of my Tylenol-3 tablets once Catherine helped me get the gauze out of my mouth, but they weren’t enough. So we had to drive back to the dentist to get a prescription for something stronger. Unfortunately, it would be several hours before I could take it because I had to wait for the Tylenol-3 to wear off.

Stuff to Expect After Surgery

But the fun isn’t over yet. I’ll be taking a day off from work tomorrow to recover, but the post-op instructions include tidbits like the following:

  • Bleeding: Bleeding is normal for approximately 24 hours after surgery, and can look worse than it actually is because saliva mixed with blood looks like more blood. If it persists, bite down on some gauze for 2-4 hours. If that doesn’t help, call for further instructions.
  • Pain: Discomfort is normal after surgery. Take pain medication as directed by the doctor.
  • Swelling: Swelling may occur immediately after surgery. To minimize or prevent swelling, as soon as possible after surgery, place and ice bag or crushed ice wrapped in a towl against the surgical area for half an hour on and half an hour off. Continue for 4-5 hours.
  • DO NOT RINSE MOUTH for 24 hours after surgery. After 24 hours, rinse 4-5 times daily with mouthwash or warm salt water.
  • DO NOT SMOKE OR CHEW TOBACCO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES FOR 48 HOURS.
  • DO NOT PERFORM ANY STRENUOUS ACTIVITIES FOR 48 HOURS AFTER SURGERY.
  • Sutures: If sutures are placed, they will dissolve in 7-10 days. Don’t fuck with them.
  • Bony Edges: Small sharp bony fragments may work their way up out of the gums during the healing process. Call if you have problems.
  • Diet: Please refrain from eating excessive hot foods. Maintain a soft, warm diet for approximately 48 hours, and don’t drink carbonated beverages for 24 hours.
  • No suction in the mouth: Straws, smoking, spitting, fellatio…

Most of this was stuff I already knew, because my wife got her wisdom teeth extracted years ago. I had to take her to the dentist and back, and help her take care of herself.

I won’t tell you what the dentist gave me for the pain, but it worked well enough that I was able to come up to my office and bash out this blog post. But now I’m overdue for another dose, and it’s also past my bedtime.

Unfortunately, this won’t be my last visit to the dentist. The x-rays they took last week showed seven cavities. They’ll need to be filled, and maybe it’s time I got my teeth whitened.

In the meantime, if you still have your wisdom teeth or know a young adult yet to get theirs, learn what you can from my experience or encourage others to do the same. From what I understand, the risks involved in wisdom tooth extraction increase with age.