Tooth Extractions and Nerve Damage
While rare, it is possible for the nerves that govern sensation in the lips, tongue, or chin to be damaged when a tooth is extracted. Nerve damage is a common topic of conversation at dental appointments, especially for appointments related to removal of the wisdom teeth, and it’s important to discuss the risks of any surgical procedure. However, the reality is that nerve damage is a very rare side effect of tooth extraction, and it is highly unlikely for nerves to sustain damage when a dental extraction is performed by a reputable and experienced dental health provider. In nearly every case, the benefits of extraction, particularly of the wisdom teeth, far outweigh the potential risks of the procedure.
The wisdom teeth are the third set of molars to erupt in the mouth, usually erupting between the ages of 17 and 25. For many people, however, this set of molars never erupts; when teeth are trapped beneath the gum tissue, or even beneath the gum tissue and the bone, they are impacted. Even when the third molars do erupt, their location in the far reaches of the back of the mouth makes them harder to clean and therefore highly prone to decay. For these reasons, many dentists recommend that patients have their wisdom teeth extracted whether they are impacted or not. Extracting these teeth earlier than later can also make the extraction procedure easier, as the roots of the teeth continue to grow as the patient ages, and dentists recommend extracting the wisdom teeth before the patient reaches age 25. When the roots of these teeth have time to finish forming, they grow long and sinuous, which makes them more difficult to remove and more likely to lead to complications, which can include nerve damage. The nerves that are most likely to be damaged are the alveolar nerve and the trigeminal nerve, which can be injured or traumatized during an extraction procedure and affect the sensation in the chin, the bottom lip, and the tongue.
If these nerves are bruised during your extraction procedure, they will eventually heal, but when a nerve is cut or otherwise severed, it won’t repair itself and can’t be repaired by a medical professional. If an area continues to feel numb, tingly, or lacking in sensation for a month or longer following an extraction, it is likely that the damage is permanent and proper sensation will neve return. Every surgical procedure comes with some risk, and the risk of nerve damage during a tooth extraction is slim. For many patients, this risk diminishes even more when compared to the pain and discomfort of impacted wisdom teeth, or when compared to the many risks of a future of tooth decay and gum disease. You may also wonder why we even have these third molars, or wisdom teeth, since we don’t use them anyway. According to anthropological studies, the wisdom teeth erupt later in life so that they can be used when the primary and secondary molars, which erupt earlier, have worn down from chewing tough meat and foraged nuts, roots, and tough leaves. While this was important for our Stone-Age predecessors, we no longer need extra molars to perform such tasks, so removing them is just helping evolution do its thing.