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Your step-by-step guide to wisdom tooth extraction

Here’s what to expect before, during and after getting your wisdom teeth taken out. Plus, what the recovery time will be like.

Your teenager is having throbbing pain in the back of their mouth. So you call up your family dentist and tell them the situation, and they get you in immediately. It turns out that your child’s wisdom teeth are impacted (more on what that means in a minute). You never want to see a family member in pain.

But there’s a solution: Either your dentist or an oral surgeon can safely remove your teen’s wisdom teeth, and they will be pain-free sooner than you think. (An oral surgeon is a type of dental specialist that can handle surgical procedures such as wisdom teeth removal.)

Here’s what to know about wisdom tooth extraction, and if it may be covered by your insurance. But first, find out the basics about wisdom teeth and why they can present a problem in your child’s mouth.

Have questions about how to get coverage? Explore your options now or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are 4 molars that grow at the very back of the mouth, at the top and bottom of each side. People (generally teenagers and young adults in their 20s) get them removed when there isn’t enough room for them to come in. That’s when they’re referred to as being impacted. If teeth are impacted, they can get infected or cause oral pain. Sometimes, they are removed to prevent problems later on.

First, take comfort in knowing that wisdom teeth removal is a very common medical surgery that can help prevent cysts, infections, tooth decay, and other related problems. Even so, it’s not surprising to feel nervous about the procedure.

“A lot of patients come in with the sense that it’s going to be a very difficult experience for them, and while that’s true for a small number of patients, it’s not for most,” says Louis Rafetto, D.M.D. He’s an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Wilmington, Delaware, and a past president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

Here’s what you can expect to happen before, during and after you get your wisdom teeth removed (or your child does).

What happens before wisdom tooth extraction?

Your dentist or oral surgeon will probably ask you to come in for a consultation before the procedure. “This is when we talk about the situation — where the teeth are, what the expectations are about the future, the risks and the benefits of removing of the teeth now versus later versus not,” says Dr. Rafetto.

During this visit, your dentist will also likely discuss what to expect during the procedure. This may include:

  • How long the procedure will take
  • How many teeth are going to be removed
  • Whether you should have local anesthesia (an injection that numbs a small area), intravenous sedation (a combination of drugs that dulls pain and makes you less aware of what is going on, while still being conscious) or general anesthesia (when you are completely “out” or unconscious)

“Not everybody who has wisdom teeth out has to be asleep or sedated,” points out Dr. Rafetto.

Your dentist or oral surgeon will also give you instructions to follow for the day of the procedure. If you’re going to be sedated, you may be told not to eat or drink anything 6 to 8 hours before the procedure, says Dr. Rafetto. You may also want to have a trusted adult or friend with you at the appointment. Their job will be to help you get home and look after you until the sedation wears off.

You can also use the pre-procedure visit to ask your dentist or oral surgeon any questions you might have about the procedure. For example, you might want to ask about whether you can take your daily medications the day of the procedure. Check whether it’s all right to take any prescription or nonprescription drugs before the surgery. And, if so, how long before.

When you arrive for your appointment, you will probably be asked to sign a consent form. You may also be given instructions about how to take care of yourself after the procedure. If you leave your appointment without this information, you’ll want to call your dentist’s or oral surgeon’s office to get it.

Looking for insurance? Enter your ZIP code to search available plans or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

What happens during a wisdom tooth extraction?

It’s all right to feel nervous on the day of the procedure. It’s not every day you have a surgical team taking teeth out of your mouth. But it’s good to remember that these people are professionals, and they do these kinds of procedures all the time, so your mouth is in good hands.

If you’re being sedated, the dental staff will monitor your vital signs while you’re under anesthesia. You may also be given nitrous oxide that you inhale through a mask. That will help you relax but won’t put you to sleep.

Next, you may be given a sedative intravenously, which will put you into a sleeplike state. Your dentist will also inject local anesthesia to numb the areas around the wisdom teeth.

During the procedure, the dentist will make an incision in the gums over or under the teeth, depending on which ones they’re removing first. Sometimes, the teeth will need to be broken into pieces or a drill will be used to remove any bone surrounding the teeth.

After the teeth are removed, the gums will usually be stitched up. Often, dissolvable stitches are used so that you won’t have to come back to have them taken out. Gauze will be placed over the area to help control the bleeding.

Your dentist or oral surgeon may want you to wait a little bit before letting you go home.

What happens after wisdom tooth extraction?

The most important thing your doctor and you can do right after the procedure is control any bleeding, says Dr. Rafetto. You will probably be given gauze to bite down on to help stop the bleeding. Ask your doctor how long to use the gauze and when to expect the bleeding to stop.

You’ll also want to rest the day of the procedure and carefully follow your dentist or oral surgeon’s instructions about taking any pain medication. Dr. Rafetto also tells his patients to ice their jaws as much as possible for 48 hours after surgery to reduce swelling. But don’t be surprised if you have swollen cheeks for a few days.

“The first day is the worst day for the discomfort. It should begin to get better after the first 24 hours,” says Dr. Rafetto. “But swelling usually doesn’t peak until the end of the second and into the third day, depending on how well you’ve been applying ice.”

To speed up your wisdom tooth recovery time, follow all your dentist or oral surgeon’s instructions for what you can eat, drink, and how to care for the surgical area. They’ll have told you how to manage the pain and what to expect. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be sufficient, but some dentists or oral surgeons may prescribe prescription-strength medication to take for the first few days, if needed. You may be told not to brush your teeth for the first 24 hours and to rinse your mouth with warm salt water every few hours.

Typically, you can expect to start doing light activities the day after surgery, says Dr. Rafetto. Anything too strenuous — anything that raises your heart rate and blood pressure — can interfere with healing.

You will also want to stick to a diet of soft or “minimal chew” foods for a few days after the surgery, says Dr. Rafetto. Liquids are good, but he says you can also try foods such as noodles, pasta, rice, eggs and pancakes. Avoid any hard foods and hot foods and liquids. And don’t smoke.

If you notice lingering tightness in your jaw a few days after the surgery, Dr. Rafetto suggests applying moist heat — such as a warm, wet washcloth.

If the pain or swelling gets worse instead of better after a few days, contact your doctor. It could be a sign of infection or dry socket, says Dr. Rafetto, which is when a blood clot breaks down and exposes nerves and bone. If you think you may have dry socket, ask your doctor about treating it.

If your pain or swelling starts to worsen after a few days or you develop a fever, notice pus or oozing from the area, or have other concerning symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

Does my insurance cover wisdom tooth extraction?

Some dental plans may cover a portion of basic services like simple extractions, fillings and root canals. Surgical extractions would likely be covered under a comprehensive health insurance plan if it’s included in your benefits. It all depends on what your insurance covers and what exclusions it may have. So, be sure to check each policy’s benefits for which might include wisdom tooth extractions.

An oral surgical procedure like wisdom tooth extraction may also be covered by your medical insurance instead. That would only likely be if the extraction is considered “medically necessary” or could impact your overall well-being. Check with your provider or insurer about what may be covered before scheduling your appointment.

Looking for the right coverage? Get more details now or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

This article is provided as general information only. It is not intended to diagnose or recommend treatment of any illness, disease or condition. You should consult a qualified medical professional if you have questions or need more information.


National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. “The night before your surgery.” June 2022. Retrieved from

National Library of Medicine: StatPearls. “Nitrous oxide.” September 2022. Retrieved from

University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Wisdom tooth removal.” Retrieved from Accessed July 11, 2023

University of Washington School of Dentistry. “After your oral surgery.” Retrieved from Accessed July 11, 2023

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