The dreaded wisdom teeth
Who needs their wisdom teeth anyway? The short answer is: not many of us. Our modern-day diet and dental hygiene standards mean we no longer need these large, robust third molars.
And because human evolution has led us to have a more compact jaw, few people actually have enough room for their wisdom teeth.
As your wisdom teeth start to make their way into position in your late teens or early twenties, they may give you some grief. Because of the lack of space they might push other teeth out of alignment. This will cause pain, potentially compromise your bite and could result in infection or cysts.
That’s why your dentist may recommend the extraction of your wisdom teeth.
What are the options?
How you have your wisdom teeth extracted will depend largely on where they are positioned. Teeth that have ‘erupted’ through the gum are usually more straightforward than those that have ‘impacted’ beneath the gum.
Whether the wisdom teeth have cut the gum or not, your dentist will usually take some x-rays of your jaw to see exactly where they are placed. After this assessment the dentist will advise you of your options.
- Local anaesthetic
Extraction under local anaesthetic is done in the chair at the dental clinic. An injection of local anaesthetic will completely block the pain and the procedure will usually take between 30 and 60 minutes (depending on the number of teeth removed). Because you will be awake your dentist may also offer a sedative to help you relax.
- General anaesthetic
For more complicated extractions your dentist might refer you to a specialist oral surgeon. Depending on the surgeon’s assessment, you could be admitted as an in-patient to a hospital (or day surgery centre) for extraction under general anaesthetic. In this case, you would be asleep for the entire procedure.
Whether you have your wisdom teeth extracted in the chair or in hospital, you are likely to be sore (and possibly swollen) for several days. So you’ll probably want a few days off work. The area of the extraction is usually stitched with dissolvable stitches which disappear after 7 – 10 days. And you will need to stick to a soft diet for several days.
Your dentist will advise you of other precautions (such as not smoking or drinking from a straw) to help with the healing process.
How does health cover work?
Before having any treatment, you should get a written quote from your dentist or oral surgeon, including the dental item numbers. If you’re going to hospital for the treatment, you’ll also need to be informed of the anaesthetist’s charge.
Then ring your health fund to confirm the benefits payable for each item number.
If you’re having your wisdom teeth out in the chair, you’ll need an appropriate level of extras cover that pays ‘major dental’ benefits. Medicare does not cover any dental treatment – so without private extras cover you’ll be responsible for the entire cost.
For admission to hospital, you’ll need a level of private hospital cover that includes surgical tooth extraction (for the hospital and anaesthetist charges) plus major dental extras cover for the oral surgeon’s fee. Medicare and the insurer will cover 100% of the Medicare Benefit Schedule fee for the anaesthetist.
If the surgeon and anaesthetist charge more than their respective schedule fees, you will have an out-of-pocket expense.
Your health fund will likely have a gap benefit available that can help reduce or eliminate any out-of-pocket expenses.