The main goal of dentistry is to preserve your natural teeth and keep them healthy for as long as possible. There are times, however, when it is in your best interest to have a tooth extracted (removed). This could be the case for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have a tooth that has been severely damaged by trauma or decay; or an impacted wisdom tooth that may cause trouble for you later on. Maybe your teenager will soon undergo orthodontic treatment and has insignificant space for his adult teeth, referred to as crowding. Or your younger child has a baby tooth that’s stubbornly adhering, even though it’s past time for it to go.
Still, tooth extraction is nothing to be feared when done by an experienced hand. Keep in mind that a tooth is not rigidly fixed in its surrounding bone, though that’s how some may picture it. In fact, it is attached to the bone via a network of fibers that form what’s known as the periodontal ligament. By carefully manipulating the tooth, these fibers can be detached and the tooth freed without much trouble.
Reasons for Extracting a Tooth
As mentioned above, there can be a variety of reasons for extracting a tooth. Be sure to ask questions about the pros and cons of any dental treatment, including extraction.
Orthodontic Treatment: Teeth are sometimes extracted when there are too many of them for the size of the dental arches (jaws), a situation known as crowding. After an adequate amount of space is opened up through the extraction of one or more teeth, the remaining teeth can be aligned properly. The teeth most frequently removed for orthodontic reasons are the first premolars, which are right next to the eyeteeth (canines).
Impacted Wisdom Teeth: Early removal of impacted wisdom teeth can prevent damage to neighboring healthy teeth, bone, gum tissue, even nerves, and blood vessels. If an impacted wisdom tooth is in a bad position, it’s best to remove it before its roots are fully formed.
Baby Teeth: If a baby tooth is out of position or not lost in the right sequence, the permanent tooth underneath it might not erupt normally. In this case, removing the baby tooth could prevent a need for orthodontic treatment later on.
The Process of Extracting a Tooth
Tooth extraction is usually carried out with local anesthesia, which will numb the teeth to be removed, and the surrounding bone and gum tissues. Additional sedatives might also be used, including oral sedatives (taken in pill form), nitrous oxide (which is inhaled) and/or conscious sedation, which is given intravenously (into a vein). The latter is usually required for more complicated (or multiple) tooth extractions. By the time the sedation medication has worn off, you won’t even be aware that the surgery was done.
As your tooth is being removed, steps are taken to ensure the bone that surrounds it isn’t damaged. Sometimes, in the process of removing a tooth, a small amount of lab-processed bone-grafting material is placed into the socket to help preserve the bone volume there. This is particularly important when the extraction is going to be followed at some point by the placement of a dental implant, which needs to fuse to existing bone, or orthodontics, which gently moves teeth through bone.