Wise Up About Wisdom Teeth

06/22/2015 11:27 am ET | Updated Jun 21, 2016

A lot of people are asking how Minnesota high school junior Sydney Galleger could die from complications of a wisdom tooth extraction. Although wisdom tooth removal is seen as a routine procedure, it is actually an invasive surgery, not to be taken lightly.

I've been performing wisdom tooth extractions for over 10 years. In my practice, I work with an anesthesiologist who is able to monitor the patient while I do the procedure. Is this common? Unfortunately, it is not. Most oral surgeons and dentists do their own IV sedations and they have to monitor both the patient and the intraoral field. I find this very difficult as a practitioner, and I choose not to practice that way. Is it more expensive to have an anesthesiologist? Definitely, but it is absolutely worth it.

The gentlest technique I have found for the removal of teeth is with using a dental hard tissue laser. In addition to the benefits during surgery where there is less heat and trauma, there is minimal to no swelling and discomfort following surgery.

Why do we sometimes need to have wisdom teeth removed? As our facial structures have changed with the increased consumption of refined foods, we know that there's an increase of narrowing of the jaws and increase in crowding of the teeth and thus an increase in impacted wisdom teeth. We've known this from Dr. Price since 1939. Some impacted wisdom teeth can harbor bad bacteria, which not only affect our mouth but cause inflammation in the rest of the body. However, the percentage of wisdom teeth which are affected by periodontal disease is estimated to be around 25 percent. With that said, some wisdom teeth stay impacted without ever causing a problem. Unfortunately, we cannot predict which ones.

Caries are a common finding in retained wisdom teeth. I extracted an upper left wisdom tooth on Dr. Jim Sears, the host of the Doctors TV show live on the show and even though his tooth wasn't impacted, he couldn't reach to clean that area and a large cavity developed, causing him discomfort. This is a common finding in middle-aged patients.

If one has adequate room to keep wisdom teeth clean and they are in alignment with the bite, then I don't recommend removal. However, we will still need to perform quite a bit of wisdom tooth removals for oral disease control, cyst prevention, disease prevention of neighboring teeth and orthodontic purposes. My suggestion is to ask for a separate anesthesiologist, if IV sedation is a must, but better yet, use nitrous oxide, aka "laughing gas," as a safer option.

As with any surgery, I recommend preparing your body at least a week prior to the procedure, by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, staying well-hydrated and avoiding any natural supplements or medications that may increase bleeding, such as fish oil and aspirin. Even adhering to these and other tips any surgery has potential risk factors.

It's wise to consult your general physician about the status of your health before any surgical procedure, such as wisdom teeth removal. Even thought you might think you are healthy, certain heart or cardiovascular abnormalities are detected later on in life, just during a routine check up. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to confer with your dental professional, as this is quite common prior to any oral surgery procedure.