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Nerve damage is one of the most serious complications that a patient can suffer during minor oral surgery. Nerves are extremely slow to heal and sometimes they may never recover from the damage that they suffer. The most common situation in which a person can suffer nerve damage during an oral surgical procedure is the removal of the lower wisdom tooth.

Why does nerve damage occur during wisdom tooth removal?

The nerves running through our jaws are in close anatomic approximation to the wisdom teeth. This is especially true of the lower wisdom teeth. The nerve running through the lower jaw, the inferior alveolar nerve, can actually run in between the roots of the wisdom tooth. In such cases, some amount of damage occurs to the nerve even if the extraction has been done in an atraumatic manner.

How often does nerve damage occur during wisdom tooth removal?

Nerve damage is considered to be quite rare during a planned wisdom tooth removal procedure. Out of the instances in which it does occur, irreversible damage is very rare as well. The reasons behind nerve damage arising could include a lapse on the part of the surgeon, a variation in the normal position of the nerve, or due to reasons which could not be identified.

Some amount of bone cutting is normal during a surgical extraction, however, if done without taking proper precautions or in the areas where the likelihood of the nerve being present is more, then it can be the cause of nerve damage.  

How is nerve damage after wisdom tooth removal treated?

The truth of the matter is that the wait and watch approach is pretty much all that can be done by the surgeons after nerve damage has occurred. If the nerve has just suffered a blow or is compressed due to swelling in the area of extraction, then normal nerve function should return within 3 months of the procedure.

If, however, the damage is more severe without actually cutting the nerve then the function should return within a year.

Nerves function that is not regained even after a year is unlikely to return on its own.

Some nutritional supplements are prescribed to the patients during this time which has been shown to help improve the chances of nerve healing occurring.

After a year of waiting, the surgeon may advise a surgical procedure to physically join the ends of the nerves. This procedure is very technique sensitive and it is rare for the nerve to regain complete function after it has been performed. Most people, though, will be able to regain a part of their nerve function.

For people that have been suffering numbness, difficulty in chewing, slurring of the words, and more troubling symptoms will take whatever return of function the procedure will provide.

How can nerve damage be prevented during wisdom tooth removal?

A patient is not expected to worry about minimizing nerve damage during an oral surgical procedure. That is the job of the oral surgeon. The damage can, however, be minimized by taking proper diagnostic x rays or CT scans before the procedure and referring the patent to a specialist if the nerve appears to be close to the roots of the tooth.   

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