In the weeks running up to the extraction of my three problematic wisdom teeth, I compulsively scoured the internet to try and find out what to expect from the procedure only to find that I struggled to get the kind of honest first-person account I was looking for. The medical videos created by dentists are great as far as information goes but they didn’t hit the spot in preparing me for what I, as the patient, could expect on the day and in the hours following.
Of course, extractions will vary from case to case, dentist to dentist and country to country, but here’s the account of mine which occurred on the 8th of January 2020, at St Faith’s Dental Practice in East Grinsted under conscious sedation – I had three teeth removed, both lower and the left upper.
The morning before.
With my appointment scheduled for 12.45, I had all morning to get myself worked up about the procedure looming over me, and as someone with quite severe dental anxiety helpfully sitting alongside a phobia of needles, it’s safe to say I was feeling pretty sick. I made sure to give my teeth a good brush – I’m sure the dental surgeon appreciated that (not) and was careful not to eat or drink anything for the requested 6 hours before my procedure. I picked out comfortable clothes, wore glasses instead of contacts, didn’t bother with jewellery (as requested) though did leave on the necklace given to me by my boyfriend and this didn’t seem to cause any issues. I packed a bag with some toilet roll in case I needed something to dribble on after the procedure and remember to pack my purse as I would be paying for this torturous privilege. Last but not least I got into the car with my selected chaperone (Ed) who would need to wait with me and then take me home by car.
Arriving at the surgery
After a 90 minute drive, my rattling nerves were practically audible and I couldn’t keep my anxiety-fueled jiggling leg still. I literally felt like a lamb being led to slaughter, with two of my biggest fears sitting behind an unassuming front door. St Faiths dental surgery was a cut above my usual dental practice, crisp, clean, modern and truth be told quite aesthetically pleasing, which did make me feel like I was in safe hands.
Approaching the reception counter I signed my life away on a few forms, weighed myself, which was to be given to the anesthesiologist, and took out my card to pay for my Band 2 UK NHS treatment costing me £62.10, which I have to say is quite reasonable considering that some of the surgeons at Saint Faith’s list their fees as starting from £300 per extraction. (I feel like I got a bargain now).
With the forms signed, I took a seat in the waiting room with Ed and filled out a short questionnaire about my anxiety levels, any medications I was on and whether I had ever taken any recreational drugs before. This was all to help the anaesthetist judge what to give me. I then pretended to read a leaflet on dental implants, briefly considered playing with the children’s toys, (you know the ones always in doctors and dental surgeries) before deciding they were probably a biological hazard and eventually resorted to standing anxiously looking out of the window wondering if the reason why they had pretty shiny perspex covering them was so that people like me couldn’t escape.
After about 10 minutes my name was called for an appointment with the anaesthetist who led me into a small room to take my blood pressure and capture another x-ray of my mouth. I was then sent back to the waiting room to be called for surgery.
By now my heart was racing, there would be no going back now, ‘I am a strong independent woman, I am a strong independent woman’ I repeated to myself desperately in a vain attempt to cure my anxieties and overcome my phobias – it didn’t work.
As my name was called both Ed and I made our way to the surgical room and I took a seat. Things then started to move quite quickly. The surgeon tried making small talk about my teeth which I ignored, instead transfixed on the anaesthetist who was gathering together his supplies for my cannula. I signed another document, which I think said I wouldn’t sue them if they hit my nerve and numbed my lower face and before I knew it the anaesthetist had scooted over on his little wheely chair and was rolling up my sleeve ready to stab me.
At this point, Ed left (I wished I could have gone with him), I warned the anaesthetist I might faint, so he lowered my chair to a laying position before giving me the obligatory ‘sharp scratch’ warning and cannulating my hand. My jumpy anxious leg was now off the scales and he joked that I was rocking his table so I tried to calm it down – at least I didn’t faint. All at once a nurse was removing my glasses and placing a mask over my eyes so I couldn’t see, my chair tilted back a little more, I felt hands touching my face, and then I felt the first local anaesthetic needle hit the back of my mouth.
‘Aughww’ I gargled, but the intravenous anaesthetic was obviously working as I was losing my ability to move and I also didn’t feel as afraid any more.
The next 20-30 minutes are a bit of a blur, I feel I must have been on the verge of unconsciousness for some of the procedure but do remember the removal of 2 of the 3 teeth as they came with tugging sensations, pressure around my head and a loud cracking sound which I’d be happy never to hear again in my life.
Before I knew it my chair was tilting up again, my mask was removed and I sat up struggling to swallow, feeling like there was a golf ball size lump in my throat. I couldn’t really see straight, had no pain at all but vividly remember feeling as though I was going to choke and wretching on the gauze that had been placed in the back of my mouth to stem the bleeding.
In a semi-conscious state, I was guided next door and sat down in the recovery room with a nurse whose voice was soothing and calming – I had a strong urge to hug her and I’m not sure if I’m imagining it but I swear she was stroking my hair. I found myself overcome with relief and tears began to fall as Ed re-entered the room and both he and the nurse were telling me how well I’d done. Because I kept gagging on the gauze the nurse removed it, reassuring me that the lump in my throat I thought was feeling was not anything real and was just a result of how numb my throat, tongue and face were.
In what seemed like a few minutes I felt a lot more aware though still a little unstable and was led by Ed out to the car to begin our journey home.
In total, the procedure lasted just 30 minutes and we were out of the surgery and on our way home just 45 minutes from our time of arrival, which is pretty efficient if you think about it.
The car ride back.
The car ride back was a bit of a roller coaster of emotion, starting with tears of relief but also a sense of fear and shock which then moved into smiling, happy silliness as I began playing with how numb my lips were. (There are a few stupid videos of me on my phone that I hope will never see the light of day). My mouth continued to bleed a fair bit and I had to keep wiping blood from my lips and out of my mouth as I was unable to spit (it was all pretty gross).
After 90 minutes I felt pretty with it, the giggly silly feelings had stopped and I had started to feel familiar sensations in my tongue and face again which, with it, came the expected pain. But no amount of pain was going to stop this hungry caterpillar from getting some food in her and I strong-armed Ed into Tesco where we picked up ice-cream, custard, mashed potato and macaroni cheese (a bit optimistically) alongside extra pain relief.
Arriving back home I suddenly felt exhausted as the day caught up with me and I fell asleep for 2 hours before making it down to work my way through the food I’d insisted we buy.
By now my face hurt, I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat. I was terrified of dislodging the blood clots which could lead to a dry socket but that didn’t stop me slowly but surely working my way through mash potato made sloppy with extra butter, ice-cream topped with custard (my new favourite dessert) and then even taking on the macaroni cheese which I nibbled with my two front teeth before swallowing largely unchewed.
Finally full and so very relieved that the day was over, I fell soundly asleep.
So here we are, I’m now 2 days post-procedure and things seem to be healing well. I decided that the macaroni cheese I ate on the first night was a bit too ambitious and have stuck largely to smoothies and mashed potato for the last two days. My face does hurt but I find that a full dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen seems to take away most of it. I’ve just started gently rinsing my mouth with salt water several times a day as instructed and have had no trouble sleeping on either side of my face.
So there you have it – my story so far – if like me you were searching for an honest 1st person account then I hope you found it helpful and if you’re awaiting surgery of your own then don’t panic, there’s no glossing over the fact that the run-up and recover is a little unpleasant but the anaesthetic makes the procedure itself a fuzzy blur and you’ll also have at least an hour of funny post-drug giggles to look forward to too.