There is a rite of passage that takes place for most in their late teens. Mine, however, came at the ripe “old age” of 39.
The removal of wisdom teeth — in my case, four of them, impacted and evidently just about as stubborn as I am.
I went under the scalpel and pliers just in time to enjoy Thanksgiving, and I’m here to tell ya, most horror stories that were shared with me were far worse than anything I experienced.
But luckily, there was enough material to at least get a column out of it.
First, there was anesthesia, which I think I might have been more nervous about than the extraction procedure, having never been knocked out before. The last thing I remember was being asked if I was ready to take a long, relaxing nap. The next, I was drifting off but heard just about the entire procedure and even managed a subconscious grocery list.
“Huh. It doesn’t seem like I should be able to hear this. But I can’t feel anything. So, I guess that’s fine. When I wake up, I should remind my husband to buy some apple sauce. I think Hy-Vee has cinnamon apple sauce. I’ll tell him to get that. Also Jell-O. And pudding. And mashed potatoes. Maybe some baby food. And ice cream sounds good. I think we’re out of almond milk.”
That is a seriously long dialogue to carry on with yourself — sedated — and aware that the surgeon is removing your lower right impacted tooth during your inner rambling.
It’s a phenomenon known as anesthetic awareness, and according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, it is estimated that only one patient per thousand receiving general anesthesia experience some level of awareness, “usually fleeting.”
I blame it on yoga. I do a lot of it, which probably means I have 20/20 vision in my “third eye,” accounting for my heightened state of awareness — even under the influence of heavy medication intended to render one absolutely useless.
Then, there was the more concerning issue of numbness that carried on in the lower half of my lip and chin for two weeks. As of this writing, it is slowly starting to resolve.
Impacted wisdom teeth in adults involve full development of the roots that often come into contact with two nerves that run along the jaw: The lingual nerve, which provides sensation to the tongue, and the alveolar nerve, which affects the lower lip and skin atop the chin.
PSA: This is one of the reasons why it’s important to get your wisdom teeth out early, before those roots have had a chance to fully develop.
While somewhat rare, I was warned that, in my case, there was a significant chance of experiencing nerve bruising or damage with the difficult position of my teeth. A longtime singer who has a professional opera contract coming up in a couple of months, this was the thing that terrified me most and also the chief reason I delayed it for so long.
Thankfully, in the realm of “pretty noises protruding from my mouth,” I seem to be doing OK, and I’ll be ready to can-can in Madison (Wis.) Opera’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” with the best of ‘em when rehearsals begin in March.
My advice if you’re “old,” like me, and have been putting it off, or if you have a kiddo who is getting ready to undergo this journey: It’s not the best thing in the world. But it’s definitely not the worst.
Strangely enough, you might even find in the loss of four problematic molars, you’ve gained a little more wisdom.