Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Wisdom Of Teeth

Wisdom teeth. Not the greatest invention in the evolutionary history of mankind. At least we1 only have four of them, so there's a limit to how much trouble they can get us into.

Three of mine are OK. I had the two in my upper jaw pulled years ago, with minimal fuss. One of the lower ones is fine as it is. The last one, though, has given me more trouble than the other three combined.
Problem is, the tooth never appeared. It was sitting horizontally in the lower jaw, and pushing against the next tooth (this is called "impaction", and is quite common). Worse, it was causing a small gap between that tooth and the gums, so it was all but certain to get infected and damage the other teeth over time. The tooth had to go.
 Not the actual chair.

And yesterday it went. I spent a few quality hours in an Osaka Dental University Hospital chair getting it out.

The major problem for this surgery is a sensory nerve called the inferior alveolar nerve. It innervates the teeth, lower lip and chin on that side, and can run very close to a wisdom tooth, or even pass right between the roots of the tooth if you're unlucky. If you damage that nerve you can lose the feeling in part of your lower face and teeth. Not good. Fortunately there was plenty of space between the nerve and my tooth.

Less good news was that this was a big tooth, with three roots that had all grown together into a large potato-shaped lump. To get it out, it had to be split into multiple pieces. According to my dental surgeon this was a difficult extraction, and it took over an hour and a half of prying and chiselling to get it out.

Which sounds horrible, but the actual experience was remarkably good. I sat down in the chair surrounded by a dozen people (this is a teaching hospital). The assistant anaesthesiologist hooked me up to a pulse, blood oxygen and blood pressure monitor2, placed an IV in the back of my hand and told me this would be the sedative.

By this time I was working myself into a panic. I started feeling lightheaded and a little dizzy, so I nervously asked him if this was the sedative taking effect? He smiled and told me it probably was. Good, I thought, it's probably working then. And …

…and the next moment the surgeon says to me "モレンさん、終わりました。お疲れ様。" ("It's over, Mr. Morén. Well done.3") . They used only local anaesthesia, but thanks to the sedatives I slept through the entire procedure. I apparently tried to talk — in Japanese — a few times during the surgery but I don't remember a single thing.

My face and jaw was swollen and sore — it still is, though my beard conceals it nicely — and it hurt a fair bit that evening, especially after my dinner of lukewarm minestrone soup and Finnish pirogs (when they say you'll have trouble chewing, they mean it). The pain killers knocked me right out at bedtime.

The swelling will take a week to subside completely. But the bleeding stopped during the night4 and the pain was already almost gone this morning. Haven't needed the painkillers at all today, in fact. I still can't chew today, so both breakfast and lunch was oatmeal porridge with lingonberries and mashed banana. Tonight we'll have kare-raisu, and by tomorrow I should be able to eat as usual again.

Most people will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth, so chances are that you will too. An impacted wisdom tooth is serious business, and likely to be the most extensive oral surgery you will need.

But the actual experience is not nearly as bad as your imagination can make it out to be. I would rate this as slightly less painful than when I had my ordinary wisdom teeth pulled, and definitely preferable to when I cracked a tooth in half a year ago.

So yes, impacted wisdom teeth suck. But getting rid of them turns out not to be all that bad. Don't worry.

#1 Not counting the 20-30% or so worldwide that never get wisdom teeth. Lucky bastards. This, by the way, is quite possibly human evolution in action.

#2 I've seen these elsewhere too, and they're really cool. They even go "beep". Would be fun to have one at home.

#3 お疲れ様 ("otsukaresama") literally means "you must be tired" or something similar, but is really a stock expression that doesn't have a straight translation. The implied meaning is that you must have worked hard or endured a lot, and it's finally over for now. It's the stock phrase to anybody that leaves work at night for instance.

#4 Protip: cover your pillow with a fluffy towel after something like this. Unless you like washing blood stains from your pillow covers.


  1. Wisdom teeth suck. I have my own horror story. I hope you are on the mend and don't bleed for much longer!!

    Can I ask about the Finnish Pirog? Any relation to perogies (the Canadian via Ukranian/Polish dumplings)?

  2. Hi,

    Karjalan pies are probably not related. They use a thin rye-dough shell filled with either rice porridge or mashed potatoes (I prefer the rice ones myself). Some people like chopped boiled egg mixed with butter as a topping, but I like a slice of ham with mustard.

    They're a bit time-consuming to make, but you can do a large batch at once and freeze them. As they're thin they thaw quickly and is easy to heat in a toaster oven. They're a great food to prepare when you don't feel like cooking.

    I really should do a recipe post next time we make a batch. Here's some pictures from Google: Karjalan piirakkat

  3. Oh, and I feel just fine now. No bleeding, no pain or anything. The cheek is still swollen, but that's about all. This whole thing actually slipped my mind today until your comment reminded me. :)

  4. Hi again (long time no comment)

    At 18 and all foru of them are growing, half aren't fully grown, two have all the surface out.

    Surprisingly all of them are well placed, except one that is slightly shifted.

    Should have a dentist visit however, had one half a year ago due to my concerns of pain while they were growing. They said it was fine. Other thing is that the two of the right end irritating my inner cheek due to chewing friction.
    Hope they don't end giving huge problems.


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