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When a Tooth Needs to Be Pulled

Despite the best efforts of you and your dentist, there are times when a tooth is so decayed or damaged that the only remedy is extracting it. You also may need to have fragile, diseased, or impacted teeth removed before a prosthesis can be fitted.

While your general dentist may perform simple extractions, he or she may refer you to an oral surgeon for more complicated ones. For a simple extraction, your dentist injects a local anesthetic into the gum and loosens the tooth with hand instruments, such as pliers and short levers. Once the dentist has loosened the tooth sufficiently, he or she pulls it out in one piece.

For teeth that cannot be removed in a single piece, local or general anesthesia can be used, depending on your preference and that of your dentist. If the tooth is impacted, your dentist may have to cut the gum and bone to reveal the tooth. Then he or she breaks the tooth into pieces, removes it from the gum, and stitches the wound shut.

Your mouth will need a few days to heal from the trauma of the extraction. Here are some things you can do to ease your discomfort and help the process along:

  • Expect a small amount of bleeding.

  • Avoid activities that could dislodge the clot where the tooth was removed. These include smoking, drinking through a straw, or rinsing your mouth vigorously.

  • Apply a cold cloth or ice pack to your face to reduce swelling.

  • Avoid brushing and flossing the area that is healing. Brush and floss normally in the rest of your mouth.

  • Take pain medication as directed by your dentist.

Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.

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