Graft Resolves Patient’s Pain After Post-Extraction Nerve Damage

Dentistry Today
Photo by Adrian Halga.


Photo by Adrian Halga.

Wisdom tooth extractions are fairly common and routine. But complications following one recent procedure required innovative treatment from doctors at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry

Davina Leedy needed a wisdom tooth removed that wouldn’t grow through the gums after it had caused several infections. A week after oral surgery, though, her lower jaw remained numb. When that feeling passed, excruciating pain in her lower chin and lip set in.

Leedy then saw Larry Cunningham, DDS, MD, chief of the school’s division of oral and maxillofacial surgery. He determined that the root of her wisdom tooth had been positioned so close to the nerve in her jaw that removing the tooth disrupted the nerve, causing the numbness and pain.

Medications were only marginally helpful in relieving the pain. So, Cunningham performed a more permanent, extensive, and complicated procedure: neuroplasty and a graft of her inferior alveolar nerve. Leedy was treated in Lexington, not far from her home.

“As a mom of 3 boys, it was much better to just drive an hour and a half than to have to travel out of state,” Leedy said.

The injured nerve travels within the lower jaw bone, so the lower jaw bone needed to be cut to see the nerve and repair it. The injured portion of the nerve was removed, and a nerve graft was placed in the defect. The procedure takes about 4 hours, with feeling expected to return to the affected area within several months.

“I’m amazed there’s someone that has the knowledge to do something like this,” Leedy said.

“Nerve injuries after dental work or dental extractions are uncommon and occur in less than 1% of wisdom tooth extractions,” said Cunningham, which is why Leedy had “no idea this complication could happen.”

Since the procedure, Leedy has been free of pain and has regained much of the feeling in her jaw. She will continue to have post-op visits to monitor additional improvements.

“The pain is gone. I can feel pressure in the area, but it’s way better than what it was,” she said.

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