For parents, each milestone is precious—from watching baby take those first tottering steps to waving goodbye as your young adult heads off to college. But some milestones are less, well, camera-worthy than others. Like wisdom tooth extraction. If your teen’s dentist has informed you that it’s time to get those teeth pulled out and you’re already stressing out about it, this guide is for you.
Why Wisdom Teeth Need to Come Out
Wisdom teeth usually erupt when a person is between the ages of 17 and 25. For a lucky few, these third molars have plenty of space, erupt normally, and never cause problems. But for everyone else, they pose the risk of impaction. Impacted wisdom teeth don’t have enough space to erupt or develop normally, and so they either grow at an angle or stay trapped within the jawbone. Either of these problems can cause serious complications for your teen, like oral infections, tooth decay, pain, and damage to nearby teeth or bone tissue. Dentists generally recommend that wisdom teeth be extracted when they are either already causing a complication or have a strong likelihood of it.
The good news is that adolescence and young adulthood is the best time to get these teeth removed. Teens are more likely to have an easier and shorter recovery time than adults, and the procedure tends to be less complicated when performed on younger people. Plus, wisdom tooth extraction usually isn’t an emergency situation, which means you can schedule the surgery for a school break.
What You Can Do to Prepare
Some teens take the news of oral surgery in stride, while others experience anxiety. If your teen is nervous, perhaps the most effective thing you can do is to help her feel in control of the situation. Ask the dentist for printed materials or referrals to credible websites. Your teen may want to read up on the procedure and why it’s necessary. Let her freely express her concerns, and try to avoid platitudes like, “Everything will be okay.” Instead, say something like, “I know you’re nervous about this, but it’s a straightforward procedure that countless people have every year.”
Encourage your teen to become a proactive patient by reading the pre-operative instructions together. Take note of the cut-off time for consuming foods and liquids before the appointment. Tell your teen to dress comfortably and warmly (those dental offices can be cold!). And don’t forget to call the office to reschedule the procedure if your teen suddenly comes down with a case of the sniffles.
What to Know About Tooth Banking
Another step you can take to prepare for wisdom tooth extraction is to learn about tooth banking and decide if you want it for your teen. Tooth banking relies on the proven science of cryogenics. Just like freezing your eggs or oocytes, you can freeze extracted cells from teeth. You may already be familiar with the idea of cord blood banking, which preserves stem cells for later use in medical treatments. Tooth banking is a second chance at banking your child’s stem cells.
In fact, even if you did bank your child’s cord blood, you might consider banking his wisdom teeth too. Unlike cord blood, the wisdom teeth are a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells. These special cells have the ability to be pluripotent, which means they can differentiate into multiple cell types. In other words, they have greater potential to treat a broader range of medical problems, ranging from heart disease to diabetes.
If you do decide to bank your child’s wisdom teeth, all you need to do is order a kit from a reputable company like Tooth Bank. Bring the kit to your child’s appointment. The dentist will place the teeth in the kit and a courier will pick it up from the dental office.
How to Help Your Teen Recover
Immediately after your teen’s oral surgery, she’s likely to be a bit groggy from the drugs. Give your teen physical support when walking her to the car, even if she insists she doesn’t need help. You’ll be sent home with a packet of information about caring for the surgical site and restricting your teen’s activity. You should always defer to the dentist’s instructions, but in general, keep your teen resting for the remainder of the day. Some teens need up to a week to fully recover, although most resume light activities within a couple of days.
Encourage your child to take frequent sips of water, but make sure he doesn’t use a straw. Using a straw or spitting excessively can dislodge the blood clot at the surgical site. Give your teen soft foods, like yogurt and applesauce.
It’s normal to see some swelling around the jaw area. Your teen should use an ice pack to manage the swelling and pain. Keep the ice pack on for 20 minutes, then off for 20 minutes.
The recovery process isn’t fun, but for most teens, it’s over fairly quickly. Just give your teen lots of love and encouragement, and remind her that it’s a great excuse to sit around and binge on Netflix for a couple of days