Monday, February 10, 2014

My Wisdom is Going Down a Hole

There is no wisdom like the wisdom of "what if".

Nowdays, in the United States, having your wisdom teeth out as soon as they erupt is a rite of passage for a lot of young people in their late teens.  I was, however, not one of them.  Born in the early 50's, this was something that was never recommended to me, and, in all honesty, I don't know if my father would have insisted on having the procedure done.

But, first, what are wisdom teeth?  They are the last teeth to come in, and are also known as third molars. They generally come in between the ages of 17 and 25.  For some, there are no issues with them. But for many people, the teeth come in misaligned.  They can become infected, they can push against other teeth, and a lot of people wonder why they were ever named "wisdom teeth".

There are all kind of horror stories floating around the internet about people and their experiences after wisdom tooth extraction.  My spouse had all four taken out at once, courtesy of his military service, and he, let's just say, didn't have the best experience.  So that helped me make up my mind that I would not have mine out.

Wrong!  Wrong! Wrong!

My bottom two wisdom teeth had come in partially, and both eventually became infected.  Eventually, both were extracted (not at the same time).  I was told, in my 40's, to have the upper ones, both impacted (neither ever erupted) removed.  Stubborn me, I was of the school of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." So, I didn't.

What I wish I had been shown is what happens if you wait till you are 61.  That's where I am now.

In November, during a routine dental exam, the dentist found that one of my two remaining wisdom teeth was literally being attacked by my body. Part of it was already dissolved away.  It had to go.

So, in mid December, I went to the dental surgeon who had taken care of me years ago, and I thought it would just be done during the consultation. I was all psyched.  Christmas music played as the dental surgeon, a Dr. Holly (no, I am not making this up) came into the room. 

He took one quick look in my mouth, shook his head, and asked his staff to take a dental CT scan.  I didn't even know there was such a thing as a dental CT scan.  And then, he sat me down and told me I had just about the worst combination of circumstances for a wisdom tooth to be in.

I have a picture of my dental CT scan on my phone, but I will not subject my dear readers to that kind of "selfie".

What can happen if you wait till you are in your 60's is simple.  The tooth, tooth #1 as dentists number teeth, was partially dissolved.  It was sticking all the way up in my sinus cavity (that can be age related) and that was a problem, too. A major problem.  And, my bone density isn't what it used to be.  It was possible that when he did the extraction, other teeth might follow if the bone snapped away.  Or, I could be left with a nice hole in my sinus cavity. Or, a number of other mean, nasty outcomes could result.  And did he happen to mention that I had a major cavity in the tooth next to it, #2, which is anchoring a bridge? And, because of the way tooth #1 was up against tooth #2, the cavity was untreatable if he didn't take tooth #1 out?

His exact words to me were "I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't."  He also told me the evidence for removing wisdom teeth in older teens automatically wasn't there when I was 20, but there is now a large body of evidence to support the practice.

Because of having to care for my mother in law during some of her cancer treatment in January, I didn't have the procedure done until Friday.  And I won't get into the gory details, except to say, when the tooth came out (after partially shattering) he told me "it's a boy" and made little baby crying sounds. Did I mention that Dr. Holly is a character? 

Yes, he's a character.
Dr. Holly told me I was lucky.  All things considered, I had just about the best outcome.  For that, I am grateful.  And I can tell you - the recovery now isn't like it was in my 40's. 

I do have that hole in my sinus cavity, and I have to take a bunch of precautions. I've read some real horror stories about what happens if that hole doesn't heal, or if I get a cold in the meantime.  And, I can feel air in my nostril on that side.  Right now, I have to admit to you my readers, I am a bit scared.

And, oh yes, that other tooth, #2? He doesn't think it can be saved. My regular dentist is going to try, but I may be seeing Dr. Holly again in a couple of months.

Being scared can be good, though, because it means I am going to care for myself the best I can, given it is a cold February in upstate New York.

As much as you try to take care of yourself, age can and does catch up with you. You lose bone mass, and it does take more time to recover from surgery.  So, the moral of the story is this:
Don't wait until you are 61 to have wisdom teeth out.

Just my personal opinion, of course.


  1. OUCH. Glad to hear it went okay. Now when you say you need something like a hole in the head you have an extra.

    1. Maybe I will finally be able to whistle, too. Good luck today, dear friend.

  2. I can still remember when I had mine removed, it was not a pretty sight. I had all 4 removed at once.

    1. Its not fun and I couldn't even imagine people having all four out at once (like my husband, and my son, did). Who ever did call them wisdom teeth?

  3. Good advice for the young among your readers. After pressing against other teeth, my wisdom teeth were removed when I was 21. At that time I had two tots. I looked like bugs bunny with swollen cheeks for weeks, not to mention the difficulty of caring for the little 'uns. I don't think that was a good age to undergo the procedure either, but it sounds better than your experience.

    1. No age is a good age, but you don't get to rest with young ones. OUCH!

  4. Ouch! What an awful story, though I 'spose it could have been much worse. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. I hope you heal exceptionally fast. I have a relative who had his wisdom teeth removed in his early 30s, and he had a hole in his sinus cavity, too. So that part may have happened even if you hadn't waited. Sometimes, "if it ain't broke don't fix it" is the wisest course of action, so I don't blame you for waiting, and I'm glad you had the best possible outcome under the circumstances.

  6. Ouch this sounds painful and I hope that it heals quickly!

  7. Hope you recover the pain fast my cousin was suffering through severe pain by wisdom teeth but she extracted soon when she realized the pain in her 20's.

  8. Of course it was a boy! What else gives so much trouble :) ??? Hope you DON'T have to go through that a 2nd time!

  9. Due to its positioning, wisdom teeth eruptions cause a lot of pain and may need surgical procedures to remove it. You made the right choice in getting your wisdom teeth checked by Dr. Holly because the situation may worsen if left unchecked. Good day!

    Javier Portocarrero


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