A tooth extraction may be necessary for many reasons, including severe damage or decay. One of the most common dental procedures, a tooth extraction can eliminate bacteria and improve your overall oral health.
A tooth extraction is a dental procedure during which your tooth is completely removed from its socket. Sometimes, people refer to this as “pulling" a tooth.
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Healthcare providers prefer to save natural teeth whenever possible. But sometimes, other restorative methods — such as dental fillings or dental crowns — aren’t enough. If your tooth has been badly damaged past the point of repair, then removal may be necessary. Your dentist may recommend tooth extraction if you have:
Dentists and some dental specialists — such as oral surgeons and periodontists — can perform tooth extractions. While general dentists perform plenty of extractions, more complex cases are usually referred out to oral surgeons or periodontists.
Your dentist will assess your affected tooth and surrounding gums. Your dentist will also take dental X-rays to check bone levels and determine the extent of damage. Be sure to tell your dentist about any medications, vitamins or supplements you’re taking. Once all information is gathered, treatment and sedation options will be discussed with you in detail.
Many healthcare providers offer sedation during tooth extractions and other dental procedures. Sedation is an excellent option for people who have dental anxiety — or for those who simply want to be more comfortable during their appointment. Sedation medications used in dentistry include:
In some instances, your dental provider may recommend general anesthesia in a hospital setting. This option is usually reserved for complex cases, such as facial reconstruction or corrective jaw surgery.
First, local anesthesia is given to numb your affected tooth and surrounding gum tissue. Using specialized dental instruments, your dentist will gently loosen your tooth and carefully lift it from its socket. Sometimes, your dentist might need to make incisions in your gums to access your tooth — especially if your tooth is badly decayed or has broken off at the gum line. Once your tooth is removed, the socket is cleaned and disinfected. In some cases, your dentist may also place a dental bone graft, which helps prevent bone loss in your jaw. Finally, stitches may be placed to help promote healing.
When the procedure is complete, your dentist will place a piece of gauze over the extraction site and ask you to close down with firm, steady pressure. This helps slow bleeding so a blood clot can form. (Clotting is a normal aspect of recovery. It promotes healing and reduces the risk of dry sockets.) You’ll take the gauze out once the bleeding has slowed enough. You may continue to have light bleeding throughout the first 24 hours.
Tooth extraction offers a number of benefits. Most importantly, it reduces harmful bacteria that can damage your teeth and gums. Left untreated, a decayed or damaged tooth can wreak havoc on your smile, causing a domino effect of problems. Removing your affected tooth gives you the best chance for optimal oral health. Additionally, a tooth extraction can help ease dental pain almost immediately — especially if your tooth was severely broken or infected.
Like any surgical procedure, tooth extraction carries a small risk of complications. These may include:
Normal side effects following tooth extraction include bleeding, swelling and discomfort. Your dentist will provide instructions on how to successfully manage your healing.
It depends on the complexity of your case. However, most people feel back to normal in just a few days. While you’ll be able to return to routine activities within 48 to 72 hours, it usually takes the jawbone several weeks to heal completely. Therefore, if you’re planning on replacing the tooth with a dental implant, you’ll probably need to wait a few months to allow for full recovery.
After your extraction, your dentist will give you a detailed list of post-surgical instructions. Here are some general guidelines for a speedy recovery:
Avoid hard and crunchy foods for the first few days. Stock your fridge and pantry with soft foods like rice, pasta, eggs, yogurt and applesauce. You’ll also want to avoid drinking through straws, as this can dislodge blood clots and cause dry sockets.
Most people are able to return to work or school within a day or two. If you have a job that requires a lot of lifting or physical labor, you may need to take a few more days off work.
Any time you develop a toothache or dental pain, it’s important to schedule a visit with your dentist. They can help determine the cause and design a personalized treatment plan.
If you’ve already had a tooth extraction, call your dentist if you develop a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher, drainage (pus) around the extraction site or severe pain that doesn’t improve with medication.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s never fun hearing that you need to have a tooth pulled. But sometimes, a tooth extraction is the best way to eliminate infection and get you back on track to a healthy smile and life. If your dentist recommends an extraction, be sure to discuss replacement options with them, too. Dental restorations like dental implants, dental bridges or partial dentures can restore appearance, function and overall oral health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/30/2021.
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