Tooth Extraction: All You Need to Know about Having a Tooth Removed

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Nobody looks forward to hearing that they need a tooth extraction, but 74% of British adults undergo the procedure at some point in their lives.

Dental consultation for extraction
Are you worried about pain after tooth extraction?

There are a number of reasons why a dentist may recommend having a tooth removed:

  • Tooth infection or severe decay
  • Periodontal (gum) disease
  • Irreparable damage from trauma
  • Impaction (in the case of wisdom teeth)
  • To make space for tooth realignment with an orthodontic appliance
  • To allow dentures or implants to be fitted

In this guide we’ll explain what to expect when you have a tooth out. Many people worry about tooth extraction pain, but the good news is that modern anaesthetic techniques make it as comfortable as possible. You’ll feel a bit sore afterwards, but we have some advice for aiding healing and recovery after an extraction.

Reasons for a dental extraction

extracted tooth picture
Extraction is a common dental procedure

Let’s look first at the main reasons why a dentist may extract a tooth. You can discuss your situation with your dentist to get his or her professional opinion on the condition of your teeth. The tooth extraction procedure is not reversible, so be sure to raise any doubts you have before going ahead.

Infection or damage

Thanks to recent advances in dentistry, infected tooth removal is seen as a last resort. Many cases of tooth decay can be treated simply with a filling. Even if you have developed a dental abscess as a result of tooth infection, root canal treatment can often preserve the tooth.

If the infection persists after this, it will be necessary to extract it to stop the infection spreading through the blood stream to other parts of the body.

Where a large part of the tooth is missing due to tooth decay or injury, your dentist may be able to fit a crown. However, if not enough healthy tooth is left to support a reconstruction, it will have to be removed.

If you have an accident which loosens your teeth or you find yourself in sudden and severe pain, make an out-of-hours dental appointment. The dentist may perform an emergency extraction or other treatment, but they might just administer sufficient pain relief and advise you to make an emergency appointment with your regular dentist.

Wisdom tooth extraction

third molar impaction
An impacted wisdom tooth probably needs to be removed

Wisdom teeth, also known as ‘third molars’, cause problems for many people because our mouths simply don’t have space to accommodate them.

When a tooth doesn’t push through the gum properly because of overcrowding, it’s known as ‘impaction’. A tooth can be fully impacted (completely covered by gum) or partially impacted (only part of it has emerged).

If a wisdom tooth is pushing up against the tooth next to it, this can cause pain and may ultimately damage the healthy tooth. In this case, it’s probably best to have a wisdom tooth extraction.

Another common reason for third molar tooth extraction is decay. Because these teeth are so far back in our mouths, they’re often very difficult to clean. This means they are more susceptible to tooth decay. Even if the decay isn’t causing any pain, it can eventually spread to the adjacent tooth if the wisdom tooth remains in place.

Not everyone has a full set of four wisdom teeth – and some fortunate people have none at all. But if you do have one or more of your third molars, the chances of complications at some point in your life are fairly high.

Upper wisdom tooth extraction can be easier than with lower ones because upper roots are often fused together, creating a smaller surface area and smoother shape. However, upper wisdom teeth usually have three roots compared to just two in lower wisdom teeth.

Periodontal disease

Periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, may cause teeth to become loose. This is because the disease erodes the tissue and bone surrounding the tooth root, which are responsible for holding the tooth securely in place.

If the condition has not progressed too far, it may be possible to treat it and save the tooth. In more advanced cases, extraction may be the only option.

Teeth straightening

braces teeth out picture
Dentists sometimes have to pull teeth before fitting braces

If you’re getting braces to correct tooth misalignment, you might first need to have one or more teeth removed. This frees up some space in your mouth for your other teeth to move into.

You might not need to have any teeth out before having braces, but this will depend on the current state of your teeth as well as the type of braces you choose. With Invisalign invisible braces, for example, it’s more common to have the sides of your teeth filed slightly to create a small gap between each one.

You’ll need to speak to your orthodontist to find out whether your treatment will require any tooth removal.

In the video below one patient explains what it was like to have teeth removed for braces. She offers some handy tips for anyone who might be about to have this done:

How do dentists remove teeth?

Routine extraction

A straightforward extraction can be done in your usual dental clinic under local anaesthetic. This means you shouldn’t experience any pain but you will be aware of what is happening.

specialist tools for removing a tooth
Dentists have a range of specialist tools for extracting teeth

Your tooth root sits in a deep hole in your gum, called a socket. Ligaments hold the tooth root tightly in place – giving your teeth the biting force you’re used to.

Most often, dentists use a lever tool called an ‘elevator’, which is wedged under the tooth to loosen it. Alternatively, they may have to rock the tooth from side to side to widen the socket. It’s not that different to wiggling a tent peg around in its hole to make it easier to remove.

Once the tooth becomes loose, the dentist can pull it straight out with dental forceps. With the anaesthetic blocking any pain, you will just feel some pressure in your mouth during this process. A simple extraction should only take a few minutes.

If you feel very nervous about having a tooth out, ask your dentist if you can have IV sedation for the procedure. This will make you feel calm and relaxed and you won’t remember much about it afterwards.

Surgical extraction

Third molar removal, especially in the case of impaction, may require a more complicated surgical extraction. The dentist or oral surgeon has to cut into the gum to access the tooth. Larger teeth might be cut into smaller pieces to make them easier to remove.

The video animation below shows methods for extracting wisdom teeth at various levels of impaction. The same type of elevator tool is used as in a simple extraction.

Tooth extraction under general anaesthetic

Most extractions, even surgical ones, can be done under local anaesthetic. This means you are awake for the procedure but you won’t feel any pain. However, more complex cases may need to be performed under general anaesthetic, by a dental surgeon in a hospital. In this case, the whole procedure takes place after you have been put to sleep.

Child tooth extraction under general anaesthetic is more common, especially if several teeth need to be removed. This makes the process less traumatic for the child since they won’t remember any of it. Adults who need to have multiple teeth extracted may also choose to do so under general anaesthetic (although NHS patients may not get this choice). This means going to hospital for the treatment but recovery will be much the same.

Another reason you may need a surgical procedure rather than a simple extraction is if there is no tooth remaining above the gum line. This might be because of severe decay or perhaps an injury. In this case, the dentist must cut into the gum to access the remaining tooth root.

Cracked or fractured teeth can also be more complicated to extract since there is a risk of them breaking.

Immediate tooth extraction aftercare

As soon as the tooth is out, the dentist will clean the empty socket and make sure no tissue or bone fragments remain. He or she may press down on the sides of the socket to suppress bleeding and to keep the jawbone in the correct shape.

Tooth extraction picture
A recently stitched extraction site

It’s at this point that your dentist will places stitches in your gum, if needed. It’s normal to get stitches after a surgical incision, and sometimes after a regular extraction. Dentists often use a self-dissolving material which breaks down by itself after a week or so.

Finally, you will be given a piece of folded gauze to bite down on. This absorbs any blood and creates pressure on the extraction site. You may also get an ice pack to minimise swelling. Carefully follow any instructions your dentist gives you with regards to these, as this will aid your recovery.

Does tooth removal hurt?

As we have already mentioned, the local area will be fully anaesthetised. You will feel some pressure – but no pain. The injection to administer the anaesthetic can be a little painful, but your dentist may use a special numbing gel to help with this.

In the unlikely event that you start to feel pinching or pain, alert your dentist immediately. If you’re anxious about feeling pain while having a tooth removed, agree in advance a signal you can use to show your dentist that you need to speak.

It’s more likely that you’ll feel some discomfort or pain after tooth extraction, once the anaesthetic has worn off. You can read more about how to deal with this in the section below on recovery.

How much does tooth extraction cost in the UK?

dental forceps extraction
Dental forceps are used for extraction of a tooth

In the UK, Dental extraction is covered by the NHS band 2 treatment charge. This is £59.10 for 2018/19. If you are eligible for NHS treatment you will pay this amount for a single course of treatment, which may involve multiple extractions if necessary.

Under-18s, pregnant women and those who have had a baby in the past 12 months receive free NHS treatment. The work may also be free if you need to visit a hospital for the tooth extraction procedure. However, some people struggle to register with an NHS dentist while others prefer to visit a private dentist.

If you pay for a private dental extraction, the cost of removing a tooth will depend on the size and location of the tooth, and how complicated the extraction is.

For example, wisdom tooth extraction costs with a private dentist (and any types of surgical tooth removal) will typically be higher than incisors.

The table below gives an idea of tooth extraction costs in the UK, if carried out at a dental clinic. Do keep in mind that private dental charges vary greatly from one practice to another, so it may be worth shopping around if you need to have several teeth extracted.

Type of extraction Cost
Any extraction with an NHS dentist £59.10
Simple tooth extraction £50 - £140
Surgical tooth extraction £100 - £300
Wisdom tooth extraction £80 - £350

These costs include local anaesthesia but IV sedation, if offered, will incur an additional charge. If you need general anaesthesia for a surgical extraction this will significantly increase the cost of private treatment.

If you need to have teeth removed for braces, this should be included in your overall treatment cost – but it’s worth double-checking this to avoid unexpected bills.

Alternatives to tooth extraction

Regardless of whether you are a private or NHS patient, you’ll probably find that extraction costs less than alternative treatments such as root canals or crowns. If you’re unable to afford the recommended restorative treatment then you may choose the cheaper option of extraction.

Removing a tooth should really only be a last resort, though. An empty space in the mouth affects the appearance of the smile and may eventually cause the face to sag. It can also present problems with eating. In the long term, the surrounding teeth are more susceptible to damage and may start to shift position, causing problems with oral hygiene.

As a general rule, it’s best to keep your original tooth for as long as possible. If it has to be extracted, it’s better to get some kind of replacement tooth rather than leave the gap empty.

root canal treatment
Root canal treatment is a possible alternative to extraction

Artificial teeth such as dentures, bridges and implants (which you can read more about below) all come at their own cost. In the long run, therefore, it might be more cost effective to preserve the original tooth rather than have it extracted.

So if your dentist feels confident they can perform a root canal treatment or fit a crown to save your tooth, you should seriously consider this rather making a decision based purely on the immediate cost.

Tooth extraction healing process

One thing that many people worry about when it comes to teeth extraction is healing and recovery.

Your dentist will give you advice on what to do after tooth extraction. As this may vary depending on the procedure you had and the position of the tooth, you should follow their instructions first and foremost. Here we have some general information and advice so you know what to expect.

How long does a tooth extraction take to heal?

Blood clot after tooth removed
The larger the root of the removed tooth, the larger the blood clot will be

After a tooth is removed, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. It’s important to do what you can to keep this clot in place. If the blood clot becomes dislodged the socket is exposed, which is very painful. This condition, known as ‘dry socket’, will require additional dental care.

In simple cases the average tooth extraction healing time is around 7-10 days. After this time the gum tissue is significantly healed and your stitches can be removed (or will dissolve by themselves). Within two weeks, smaller sockets may appear completely healed.

Wisdom tooth extraction recovery can take a little longer, especially if the tooth was impacted and had to be removed surgically. This is simply because the wound from molar tooth extractions is larger and takes longer to heal.

Under the surface, it takes 6-8 months for your jaw bone to grow back and ‘fill in’ the hole left by the tooth.

Tooth extraction pain: does it hurt?

It’s normal for patients to feel some discomfort, soreness or pain after getting a tooth pulled. Your dentist should give you painkillers to help manage this – or they may recommend suitable over-the-counter products. Alternatively, you can try one of these home remedies for tooth pain to help as you recover.

The area around the socket will probably feel tender and you may experience some swelling in your face.

This discomfort should subside 2-3 days after the extraction. If you continue to experience pain or you suddenly notice the pain worsening several days later, contact your dentist immediately as this could be a result of infection at the extraction site. Yellow or white discharge is also a sign of infection.

Dry socket after tooth extraction

man with painful tooth
Dry socket is a painful condition you’ll want to avoid

Dry socket (alveolar osteitis) occurs when the protective blood clot fails to form or is dislodged from the socket before it’s healed. As a result, the underlying nerves and bone become exposed and food may get lodged in the socket.

This condition is extremely painful and an intense throbbing pain may spread all over the affected side of your face. Pain can begin anywhere between one and five days after the extraction.

Dry socket is a relatively common complication following extraction, particularly with wisdom teeth where the sockets is larger or with difficult extractions. Fortunately, it rarely leads to anything more serious – but you do need to visit your dentist to have it treated. They will give you painkillers and may clean and dress the wound to aid healing.

To avoid developing dry socket after a tooth extraction, follow your dentist’s instructions carefully. In particular, smoking is known to increase the risk of dry socket.

Tips for speedy recovery

Giving yourself the right aftercare will help speed up your recovery so you can get back to normal.

In the first 24 hours following removal of a tooth you should:

  • Apply gauze as instructed

    avoid hot drinks after tooth pulling
    Get used to having your coffee lukewarm for a few days
  • Inform your dentist if bleeding doesn’t seem to be reducing
  • Avoid rigorous rinsing with water or mouthwash
  • Avoid brushing the teeth next to the extraction site
  • Resist the temptation to poke at the site with your tongue or finger
  • Avoid hot foods and drinks, since heat may dissolve the blood clot
  • Refrain from smoking, vaping, or drinking through a straw – the sucking action can pull on the clot
  • Keep your head elevated when you lie down
  • Take it easy and avoid strenuous activities

24 hours after the procedure you can use a salt water rinse for cleaning. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water and gently swish it around your mouth.

Can I go back to work after a tooth extraction?

Some people feel well enough to return to work immediately after having a tooth removed, whereas others need more time to recover. A lot will depend on how many teeth are extracted and how complicated the procedure is. In any case, it will take an hour or two for any anaesthetic to wear off.

Consider taking a day or two off work to give your body time to rest, especially if you’re having a lot of work done or you have a history of slow recovery from medical procedures.

What to eat after a tooth extraction

For a few days afterwards it’s best to stick to soft foods and eat on the opposite side of your mouth. If you have had multiple extractions in different locations, your dentist might recommend a liquid diet. You may have to maintain these precautions for up to a week after a surgical extraction.

Keep drinking plenty of water so your body stays hydrated for healing. Just remember not to use a straw, since the sucking action can dislodge the clot in your socket.

Once you have fully recovered, try to maintain good oral hygiene to reduce the chances of you needing another extraction or other dental treatment in the future.

Replacing an extracted tooth

abutment for implant
Consider replacing your missing tooth with an implant

Should you need to have a tooth removed, particularly one at the front, you’ll soon be thinking about your options for replacing it. The three main choices are:

  • Dentures (false teeth)
  • A bridge
  • A dental implant

Dental implants are the most permanent option, and also the closest to a natural tooth. The titanium implant is inserted into the jaw bone and an artificial tooth crown is attached on top. The bone fuses with the implant and this minimises bone loss.

But implants are the most expensive option, costing around £2,000 for a single tooth implant and crown. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on the treatment to make implants more affordable.

Bridges and dentures are both types of prosthetic tooth which sit on top of the gum. A bridge is fixed permanently in place while a denture is removable. Both can serve as long-term solutions for missing teeth. They are cheaper than implants, but come with a risk of underlying bone loss over time.

You may be able to have a temporary prosthesis fitted straight away if one of your front teeth is removed. Speak to your dentist to find out which options are available to you, and how much they will cost.

Whatever your current situation, thanks to modern dentistry there are ways to restore your smile and your confidence.

FAQs

How long does a tooth extraction take?

child tooth extraction
Ask your dentist how long your extraction will take

This depends a lot on which tooth is being extracted, what condition it is in, and whether there are any complications.

In simple cases, the extraction itself may take only a minute or two, but you need to allow time for the anaesthetic to take effect and for any bleeding to subside afterwards. Therefore the entire process will last more like 20-40 minutes.

Complicated or surgical extractions will take a little longer. Your dentist may have to break the tooth into pieces to remove it, and if the tooth is decayed and cracks or chips then your dentist will need to take extra care to ensure no pieces are left behind. Where stitches are required, this will add a few minutes to the total treatment time as well.

If you’re nervous about having a tooth out, ask your dentist to explain the process – including how long they expect it will take. Knowing this information may help you feel calmer.

How long after a tooth extraction can I eat?

You’ll probably be safe to eat within a few hours of your extraction, as long as you avoid biting directly on the extraction site. If you have only had one tooth removed, or multiple teeth on the same side of your mouth, it’s not too difficult to just chew on the other side for a while.

Listen to your dentist’s advice though, because they may give you specific instructions to follow – especially if you had a complicated extraction.

What can I eat after a tooth extraction?

Most people find it more comfortable to eat soft or liquid foods for at least a day or so while recovering from having a tooth out. Ask your dentist for advice based on your particular condition.

foods after tooth extraction
Smooth soup is a good way to fill up without hurting your mouth

Good foods to eat after a tooth extraction include:

  • Smooth soups
  • Smoothies
  • Mashed potato
  • Scrambled egg
  • Ice cream
  • Jelly
  • Yoghurt

Avoid crunchy and chewy foods during this time, and try not to bite down on the extraction site. Also steer clear of acidic and spicy foods – these will hurt if they get into your wound!

Cold foods can help soothe any pain, but be careful if you have sensitive teeth. However, it’s best to avoid very hot food and drink for a day or two.

Finally, remember not to drink anything through a straw while your tooth extraction is healing because this can dislodge the blood clot and cause dry socket.

When can I smoke after a tooth extraction?

vaping after tooth extraction
Smoking and vaping will need to wait

As with drinking through a straw, the sucking action of smoking after a tooth extraction can cause the blood clot in your mouth to dislodge. If this happens it can lead to a very painful condition called dry socket – something you’ll want to avoid. E-cigarettes carry the same risk, so vaping after a tooth extraction is also a bad idea.

To add to this, toxins in cigarettes can irritate your gums and lead to painful swelling at the extraction site.

Your dentist will probably advise you to refrain from smoking for 72 hours after the procedure. You could use this as an opportunity to quit (and help avoid a load more oral health problems in the future) but if you don’t like the idea of going cold turkey, set yourself up with some nicotine patches so you can still get your fix while your mouth recovers.

Can I drink alcohol after tooth extraction?

Drinking alcohol after a tooth extraction is not a problem in itself, as long as you avoid using straws. However, if you’re taking pain medication (which is very likely, at least for a day or two), then you mustn’t drink alcohol. Mixing certain medicines with alcohol can be very dangerous.

Also remember that hot and acidic drinks can be painful to consume and prevent proper healing.

Can I drink tea or coffee after a tooth extraction?

If you’re wondering how long you’ll have to go without your caffeine fix, don’t worry. You should be safe to drink tea and coffee as soon as your anaesthetic has worn off, unless your dentist tells you otherwise.

The only downside is you’ll need to avoid hot tea and coffee for a day or two, as these can interfere with the clotting process. Instead, you’ll have to make your drinks iced or lukewarm.

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