If you need your wisdom teeth removed or surgery on your jaw, you’ll likely be referred by your doctor to a dental specialist known as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Since we rely on our mouths for everything from communication to chewing our food, it’s important to have an educated discussion with your surgeon about the recovery process, including how your pain will be managed.

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Let’s explore some of these surgeries in greater detail.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction (Removal)

What is Wisdom Teeth Extraction (Removal)?

Wisdom teeth extraction is the surgical removal of your wisdom teeth. Also known as third molars, your wisdom teeth are the final molars to emerge on each side of the upper and lower jaws and tend to appear when a person is in their late teens or early 20s. If these teeth erupt at the wrong angle or shift your other teeth; if your mouth isn’t large enough for this set of molars; or if the molars are impacted, a painful condition when the tooth is embedded in your jawbone or gums, you might be a candidate for wisdom teeth removal.

Nearly 85 percent of young adults will have their wisdom teeth removed.

What can I expect?

Some dentists can remove wisdom teeth, but if your case is complex or if your molars are severely impacted, you’ll be referred to an oral surgeon. Often performed as an outpatient procedure, you’ll likely stay at the doctor’s office until the local anesthetic has worn off. Bleeding, swelling, bruising and pain are common discomforts that occur the first few days after surgery. The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) encourages patients to use ibuprofen as a first-line treatment for postsurgical pain. AAOMS also suggests surgeons consider using a long-acting local anesthetic to postpone the onset and severity of postsurgical pain. Be sure to talk to your surgeon about what options will be best to manage your pain if you need to have your wisdom teeth removed.

Jaw Surgery

What is Jaw Surgery?

Jaw surgery – also known as orthognathic surgery – corrects irregularities of the jaw bones by realigning the jaw and teeth to improve functionality. Depending on the position of your jaw and what needs to be corrected, surgery may be performed on the upper jaw (maxilla), lower jaw (mandible), chin or any combination of these. Once your oral maxillofacial surgeon moves the jaw to the correct spot, it will be secured in the new position using small bone plates, wires, rubber bands and screws, all of which become integrated into the bone structure over time. It’s suggested that an individual not undergo jaw surgery until they’ve reached a certain age, which varies by gender, to make sure bone growth is complete.

What can I expect?

Preparing for jaw surgery is often a lengthy process that involves your oral maxillofacial surgeon and orthodontist developing a customized treatment plan. For example, your orthodontist will likely utilize braces to align your teeth and will work with your oral maxillofacial surgeon to develop models of your mouth to plan for the procedure and to ensure your mouth is positioned properly.

Jaw surgery may require a 2-4 day stay at a hospital. While complete healing can take up to 12 weeks, patients typically experience the most discomfort the first week following surgery, including swelling, significant nasal and sinus congestion, and difficulty eating. You may be prescribed medications to manage your pain, but remember to talk to your surgeon about effective ways to manage pain without the use of opioids.