Complications

As with any type of surgery, wisdom tooth removal carries some risks. However, these risks are usually small.

Risks can include:

  • dry socket – where a blood clot fails to develop in the tooth socket, or if the blood clot becomes dislodged 
  • nerve injury – this can cause temporary or permanent problems, such as tingling or numbness 
  • infection – signs include a high temperature, yellow or white discharge from the extraction site, and persistent pain and swelling
  • bleeding

See your dentist if you have signs of infection after having your wisdom teeth removed, or if you're bleeding heavily from the extraction site.

Dry socket

Dry socket (alveolar osteitis) is one of the most common complications of wisdom tooth removal. It's where a blood clot fails to develop in the tooth socket, or if the blood clot becomes dislodged or disappears. This can happen 3 to 5 days after surgery.

The empty socket causes an ache or throbbing pain in your gum or jaw, which can be intense like a toothache. There may also be an unpleasant smell or taste from the empty tooth socket. If you look into the socket, you might be able to see exposed bone rather than a blood clot.

You're more at risk of developing dry socket if:

  • you don't follow your dentist's instructions after the extraction
  • you smoke
  • you've had the condition before
  • you're over 25 years old
  • the extraction was difficult or complicated

See your dentist or surgeon if you think you have dry socket. They can flush any debris out of the socket or cover it with a medicated dressing, which may be removed and replaced frequently until it heals.

Nerve injury

Although far less common than dry socket, injury to sections of a nerve called the trigeminal nerve is another possible complication of wisdom tooth removal. It can cause pain, a tingling sensation and numbness in your tongue, lower lip, chin, teeth and gums.

The damage is usually temporary, lasting for a few weeks or months. However, it can be permanent if the nerve has been severely damaged.

A nerve injury can interfere with your daily activities, making things such as eating and drinking difficult. However, a nerve injury will only cause sensation problems – it won't cause any weakness to your lip or tongue.

Your dentist or surgeon will try to minimise the possibility of nerve damage when removing your wisdom tooth, and they should tell you about the risk of complications before the procedure.

General anaesthetic

General anaesthetic is occasionally needed for the removal of wisdom teeth.

It carries some additional risks, but complications are very rare, occurring in less than 1 in every 10,000 cases.

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2018
Next review due: 04/04/2021