Every year, thousands of people have their wisdom teeth removed. Wisdom teeth, which are the third set of molars, are often removed when a person is in their teenage years up to their late twenties. The teeth often do not break through the gum until people are in their teens or twenties and some wisdom teeth never erupt and stay completely in the gum tissue.
If the teeth do erupt from the gums, it can be painful. Tooth removal is not always necessary, but it is a common preventative measure to avoid teeth crowding, eruption, infection, and pain. Delayed removal can also increase a person’s risk of developing complications. The dentist or oral surgeon will advise their patient of options in regards to removal after examination and x-rays are taken.
While a common procedure, wisdom tooth removal does carry risks as with all surgical procedures. Bruising, bleeding, and difficulty opening one’s mouth are also risks, but these injuries are often resolved during recovery. “Dry socket” can also occur and is caused by loss of the blood clot from the extraction site. While incredibly painful, dry socket is not a permanent injury. Permanent injuries can include bone splinters, jaw fractures and lingual nerve injuries. The bottom jaw is also filled with nerve endings that allow us to taste and feel texture with our tongue. The rate of occurrence of lingual nerve injuries is difficult to estimate because the degree of the injury to the lingual nerve and resulting symptoms can vary so widely.
A lingual nerve injury is a devastating event for the injured person. Some lingual nerve injuries will heal within a few days of the procedure, and some injuries are permanent. While lingual nerve injuries can occur during tooth extraction due to the location of the teeth, they can also be caused by the dentist’s instruments. Once the lingual nerve is injured by being severed or nicked by a drill or other instrument, the patient will likely experience some degree of numbness, pain, tingling or lack of sensation in that area of their mouth. Even if the teeth are tilted, difficult to remove, infected, or the patient delayed removal, the dentist or oral surgeon must still take the same degree of care and seek to minimize the risks and damage to the patient during the removal.
Lingual nerve injuries during tooth extraction are something that everyone should consider when deciding to having wisdom teeth removed. When choosing a dentist or oral surgeon, find out how many of these procedures the dentist or oral surgeon has done, whether they are experienced in removal of impacted teeth, and whether they’ve ever had a malpractice claim filed against them.
It is also imperative to ask the dentist’s expectations for your recovery after removal. Although injuries from the surgery can heal in a few days or weeks, lingual nerve damage can be permanent.