Tooth Extraction Complications: A Comprehensive Guide with Pictures

Complications of tooth extraction procedure
Tooth extraction is one of the most routine dental procedures, typically quick and easy, with a low risk of complications. However, specific situations and risk factors may increase the likelihood of side effects. These effects can manifest during, immediately after, or in the long term following the procedure.

Knowing what to expect and recognizing unusual situations is crucial to work better with your dentist for a smoother recovery.

Common Pre-Extraction Concerns (what I often get asked)

Before we start the tooth extraction procedure, it's normal to have some common concerns. Many patients wonder about potential pain, swelling, bleeding, and the impact on daily activities. Here are the most frequently asked questions:

Will it hurt?

Yes, you may experience some pain and discomfort when the numbness wears off. This is normal and can be managed by pain medication.

Will I swell?

Swelling is completely expected after the procedure. It's a natural part of the healing process, and we'll discuss ways to minimize it.

What if I bleed at night?

A small amount of bleeding is typical, especially in the first few hours. However, significant bleeding may require additional treatment.

Will I be able to work?

You may need a day or two off to rest and recover.

What should I eat?

Eating may be challenging initially. You may have difficulties swallowing and opening your mouth. But as healing progresses, you can gradually resume your usual diet.
These expected postoperative effects are temporary and part of the healing process. However, they are distinct from the complications we'll discuss next. Complications are uncommon, unexpected issues that can arise during or after the procedure, potentially affecting healing and comfort.

Potential Complications During the Tooth Extraction Procedure (Intraoperative side effects)

What the Studies Say:

When it comes to intraoperative complications of tooth extraction, studies have mainly focused on wisdom teeth. Here are some key findings:

  • Chiapasco (1993) found intraoperative side effects in 1.1% of lower wisdom teeth extractions and 4% of upper wisdom teeth extractions.

  • Sebastiani (2014):
    • The rate of intraoperative complications of tooth extraction was 6.19%.
    • The main complications included tuberosity fracture (the bone behind the upper wisdom teeth) and bleeding.

  • Sayed (2019):
    • Found an incidence of 3.7% for complications during tooth extractions.
    • Tuberosity fracture was the most common complication, followed by root fracture and bleeding.

Anesthesia-Related Complications

Dental anesthesia is a routine and crucial step in ensuring your comfort throughout the procedure. When administered with care, it is both effective and safe.

Complications from dental anesthesia are rare. Even when they do occur, they are typically minor and temporary. These complications can range from mild and temporary issues like mild pain, bleeding, and nerve damage to more serious incidents like cardiovascular reactions, intoxication, and allergy.

Pain at the injection site is typically minimal and barely noticeable. However, if the needle accidentally damages a blood vessel, it may result in internal bleeding, leading to swelling and difficulty in opening the mouth.

A nerve can also be injured during the anesthesia process, which can cause lasting sensory disturbances after the procedure. Fortunately, it's almost always a temporary issue that resolves on its own. The odds of permanent nerve deficit from dental anesthesia are exceptionally low, ranging from 0.000007% to 0.003%.

On rare occasions, a deep injection can numb the facial nerve, responsible for controlling facial muscles' movement. This situation can lead to temporary facial paralysis that can last a few hours after the procedure.

Even more rarely, the injection of anesthesia can trigger allergic, cardiovascular, and intoxication reactions. Although infrequent, these reactions can be serious. Symptoms include skin reactions, facial swelling, chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, and difficulty breathing.

Injury to Adjacent Teeth and Surrounding Soft Tissue

During the procedure, the dentist uses instruments to loosen the tooth for a smoother extraction. However, there exists a potential risk of accidentally damaging nearby teeth and surrounding soft tissues.
Dental X-ray showing fractured root of the tooth close to the extracted tooth
The injury may be as slight as a small crack or, worse still, the roots may break off and become dislodged, ultimately leading to tooth loss.

The surrounding soft tissues, including the cheeks, lips, tongue, or the roof of the mouth, can be unintentionally damaged as well. The use of sharp instruments may cause perforations or lacerations, resulting in significant pain and bleeding.

The Tooth May Break Off

A relatively common intraoperative complication involves the tooth breaking off during the procedure. Instead of coming out entirely, the tooth may fracture, leaving a portion of the root trapped within the bone.
Dental X-ray showing root fracture of an extracted tooth
Extracting these embedded roots can pose challenges, often requiring the removal of part of the surrounding bone.

This occurrence is more likely when the tooth is already too weak or has a complex root shape. In such cases, the tooth becomes more susceptible to fracturing under the forces applied by the extraction instruments.

Bone Damage during Tooth Extraction

It's not uncommon for a small bone fragment to break off or come out with the tooth. Usually, this is a minor issue and should not be a cause for concern.
bone fragment coming out with an extracted wisdom tooth
In more severe cases, when a large portion of bone becomes loose or dislocated, the dentist can reposition and stabilize the fragment to promote healing and consolidation with the underlying bone.

However, extensive jaw fractures are often serious complications that require specialized care from a specialist, like the maxillo-facial surgeon or ENT specialist.

Sinus Exposure

The most common cause of sinus exposure is the removal of the back teeth of the upper jaw – namely the second molar and wisdom tooth, followed by the first molar and then the first premolar.
Clinical image showing a hole connecting the mouth to the sinus, resulting in oro-antral communication
These upper back teeth are positioned just below the sinuses and can have direct connections to them. During extraction, the delicate soft tissue lining the sinuses may be damaged or perforated, leading to oroantral communication – a direct connection between the mouth and the sinus.

When the sinus is injured during the procedure, you may feel as if an instrument is being pushed up, accompanied by intense pain and bleeding.

A piece of bone coming out with the tooth is also a strong indicator. This refers to the sinus floor, which is the part that isolates it from the mouth.

Bleeding During Tooth Extraction

While bleeding during the procedure is typically manageable and controllable, it can be serious for patients with specific medical conditions.

Notably, patients with conditions impacting blood clotting activities, such as hemophilia, platelet deficiency (thrombocytopenia), clotting factor deficiencies, or those on blood thinners, may experience more severe and potentially life-threatening bleeding.

Therefore, it is essential to inform your dentist or surgeon of any medical conditions you may have, as well as any medications you are currently taking. This will enable the dental team to take the necessary precautions and adapt the extraction process to ensure your safety and well-being.

Immediate Complications After Tooth Extraction (Postoperative side effects)

What the Studies Say:

The following findings concern post-operative complications of wisdom teeth removal:

  • Chiapasco (1993): The incidence of postoperative complications was 4.3% for lower wisdom teeth and 1.2% for upper wisdom teeth.

  • Sigron (2014):
    • The complication rate was 8.4% for the 1,199 wisdom teeth extracted.
    • Dry socket was the most predominant complication.

  • Sayed (2019):
    • The post-operative complication rate was 8.3%.
    • Nerve injuries were the most common (7.2%).

Dry Socket

Dry socket is one of the most prevalent postoperative complications. It has been reported to occur in about 0.5 to 5.6% of cases and up to 30% for surgically removed wisdom teeth.

Immediately after the procedure, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This blood mass plays a vital role in stopping bleeding and promoting the healing process.

When the clot is disturbed too early, it exposes the socket, leading to a painful condition called dry socket. What's more, an uncovered socket is more susceptible to bacteria and debris buildup, raising the risk of postoperative infections.
Clinical cases of dry socket
Dry socket typically shows up 2 to 3 days after the procedure. In addition to delaying healing, it causes severe pain that may prevent sleep. Unlike the usual pain after the procedure, pain from dry socket might not be relieved by regular pain medication.

Factors that trigger the condition include smoking, sucking on the wound, and aggressive mouth rinsing.

Bleeding After Tooth Extraction

Just as there is a risk of bleeding during the extraction procedure, it can persist after the process, even hours after returning home.

External bleeding involves blood flowing outside the wound, into the mouth. It's typically minor and can be easily controlled at home by gently biting down on a clean compress for a few minutes. Sometimes, blood can mix up with saliva and make the bleeding seem more excessive than it is.

On the other hand, internal bleeding occurs within the tissues, leading to bruising—the familiar black, green, or yellow discoloration seen on the skin. Bruising is generally not a cause for concern, as it tends to disappear as the body naturally eliminates pooled blood.

In some cases, blood can collect in one spot under the skin, firming a rubbery or lumpy area called hematoma. Most hematomas are harmless and disappear as part of the healing process.

When to Seek Assistance:

  • Excessive Bleeding: Reach out to your dentist if bleeding is too excessive or challenging to control at home.

  • Persistent Bruising or Hematoma: Bruising or hematoma that doesn't resolve after the initial weeks should also prompt you to talk to your dental professional.


Infections following dental extractions can unexpectedly occur, even after a seemingly successful procedure—they may surface immediately after the procedure or days later.

These infections happen when mouth bacteria or an existing infection reaches the wound. They can also arise if a foreign body is accidentally left in the socket by your dentist.

Different types of infections may occur, depending on the affected area.

For instance, if the infection targets the bone supporting the tooth socket, it's termed alveolitis or socket infection. If the infection extends to a significant part of the jawbone, it's called osteitis. When bacteria invade the soft facial tissue around the extraction site, it's termed facial cellulitis. An infection affecting the sinuses is referred to as sinusitis.
  • Socket Infection or Alveolitis: This infection is confined to the bone supporting the tooth socket and can occur either immediately or days after the procedure. Signs include a socket filled with grey or brownish material, pus leakage, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth, often accompanied by bad breath. The gums surrounding the wound may appear red and swollen. While pain is present, it is typically less intense than in the case of dry socket.

  • Bone Infection or Osteitis: It occurs when the infection extends further down the jawbone. This condition is characterized by more significant swelling and intense pain, often accompanied by general symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and swollen neck lymph nodes.

  • Facial Cellulitis: Bacteria can spread to the soft tissues of the face, affecting areas like the cheek, chin, and under the tongue, depending on the tooth's location. The infection tends to follow the path of least resistance. Ultimately, it will create a drainage pathway known as a fistula.

  • Sinusitis: It's a complication of untreated oroantral communication. In healthy conditions, the sinuses are isolated from the bacteria-rich mouth environment. However, when the sinus directly communicates with the mouth, oral bacteria, saliva, and food can leak upward, leading to a "sinus infection."

Nerve Complications

Innervation of the lower jaw
Nerve complications are frequently associated with lower wisdom teeth, as these are often close to major nerves like the inferior alveolar nerve (IAN) and the lingual nerve (LN). Sometimes, these nerves are in direct contact with the roots, making an injury more likely.

The IAN and LN are sensitive nerves responsible for providing sensation to specific areas of the mouth and face, including the teeth, lips, tongue, lower cheeks, and chin.

During the extraction procedure, injuring these nerves may lead to lasting sensory disturbances such as tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation. But this can never lead to facial paralysis, as these nerves do not control muscle movement.

The duration of symptoms can vary, ranging from a few weeks to over a year. Permanent deficits are rare, occurring in no more than 2% of cases.

Difficulty Opening the Mouth (Trismus)

Having trouble opening your mouth, known as "Trismus," is a common and expected reaction after a dental extraction.

During the extraction procedure, maintaining an open mouth position for an extended period can exert strain on the muscles and joints. This is particularly true for more complex and lengthy extraction procedures.

Additionally, damage to a muscle, whether caused by the anesthesia needle or a sharp instrument, can lead to issues with muscle contractions, contributing to difficulty in opening the mouth. Internal bleeding or swelling can further contribute to the restriction of jaw movement in the initial days.

Trismus typically resolves within one or two weeks following the extraction. However, if the difficulty persists longer, it may indicate an underlying issue, such as an infectious complication or trauma.

Subcutaneous Emphysema

Subcutaneous emphysema is an extremely rare but potentially serious complication that can occur when air gets trapped under the skin. Swelling is a key indicator of this condition, and when you touch the affected area, you may notice strange, crepitus-like noises. Symptoms can appear quickly, from a few minutes to a few hours after the procedure.

While it's mostly harmless, subcutaneous emphysema can lead to severe infections in rare cases. Trapped air along with bacteria can leak into nearby areas, potentially reaching critical places like the neck, chest, and lungs.

Long term side effects

The following complications do not appear overnight after the procedure but after months or even years.

Changes in Bone Shape After Healing

Clinical image showing changes in bone shape after healing from tooth extraction
Following tooth extraction, the healing process may result in irregularities in the shape of the bone, where one surface becomes more prominent than the other. This can pose challenges, especially if you're planning to replace the missing tooth.

Before considering an implant or denture, the bone must first be leveled and smooth out to ensure both aesthetic and functional outcomes.

Bone Loss

bone loss after tooth extraction
Teeth play a crucial role in stimulating the bone they are housed in by transmitting chewing forces. This stimulation prevents the jawbone from collapsing and weakening. When teeth are lost, this stimulation ceases, leading to progressive shrinkage of the alveolar bone.

Significant bone loss occurs, with a 32% width reduction at 3 months and 29-63% at 6-7 months. Bone loss then continues at a slower rate in the upcoming years.

This can be prevented by socket preservation, a technique where a bone graft is placed in the socket after extraction to strengthen the area. This will create a solid base for the implant, an artificial root that can simulate natural teeth function by transmitting chewing forces and preventing further bone resorption.

Teeth Shifting

Shifting teeth to fill the space left by the extracted tooth
Teeth have a natural aversion to what's known as "blank space." They always strive to find contact points with adjacent and opposite teeth to align themselves and optimize the bite.

After extraction, nearby teeth may shift horizontally, while opposing teeth shift vertically to fill the gap left. This can result in dental alignment issues and increase the risk of conditions like cavities, gum disease, and joint problems.

Addressing this involves replacing the missing tooth as soon as possible or using braces to close the gap, preventing undesirable teeth shifting and associated complications.

Bone Spur

Clinical image of bone spur showing up after tooth extraction
Once the tooth has been extracted and the socket healed, you might notice a small piece of bone or root tip emerging from the gums, and it's not as serious as it looks.

During extraction, small pieces of bone or root ends may accidentally remain in place.

As the socket heals, the body recognizes these remnants as foreign objects and initiates a natural process to expel them, pushing them to the surface through the gum. When they emerge, the surrounding gum tissue can be red, swollen, and tender.

While this might cause concern, there's no need to worry, as these are often loose remnants that are easy to remove.

Cysts and Tumors

# Jaw cyst coming back after tooth extraction
Cysts and tumors represent distinct types of abnormal growth with different characteristics. Cysts are cavities lined with cells and filled with air, liquid, or other bodily substances. On the other hand, tumors result from abnormal cell growth.

Both cysts and tumors of the jaws are uncommon and usually benign (non-cancerous) conditions that can quietly progress without showing any noticeable symptoms.

Studies have shed light on their occurrence, particularly in extracted impacted wisdom teeth. The results reveal that 2,24% are associated with cysts and 1,16% with tumors. Another study with 2778 patients who had impacted wisdom teeth removed showed a 1,54% occurrence of cysts and tumors.

If the abnormal growth is overlooked during the tooth extraction procedure, it will persist and continue to grow in the following months and years, leading to further symptoms.

Even if treated initially, there's a small chance it might come back, especially if the treatment isn't complete or if there's debris left in the surgical site.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Complications

Tooth extraction is typically a routine and low-risk procedure, especially for those in good overall health. However, certain factors can influence the risk of complications. These include:

  • The Complexity of the Procedure: The complexity and duration of the procedure directly correlate with the risk of post-operative complications like dry socket, infections, and bleeding. For instance, the extraction of impacted or difficult-to-remove teeth may involve cutting away a portion of bone, leading to increased post-operative pain and an extended healing period.

  • Dentist's or Surgeon's Experience: Extracting fully emerged teeth is usually straightforward, but challenges may arise with impacted teeth that are embedded within the jawbone, especially wisdom teeth. A dental X-ray helps assess the situation, revealing the teeth that may pose challenges.
    Overall, deeply impacted teeth, roots with unusual shapes, or those close to nerves may demand the expertise of an experienced surgeon.

  • Certain Medical Conditions: Any dental procedure that creates a wound in the mouth has the potential to introduce oral bacteria into the bloodstream, a process known as bacteremia. In healthy individuals, this is usually a temporary and quickly resolving phenomenon.

    However, patients with weakened immune systems may experience bacteremia-related infectious complications, extending beyond the extraction site to areas like the neck, heart, and lungs.

    At-risk conditions include unstable diabetes, and immunosuppressive treatments such as corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. For high-risk patients, antibiotics will likely be prescribed before and after the procedure to prevent potential infections.

  • Following Postoperative Advice: Adhering to your dentist's or surgeon's postoperative advice is crucial for a successful recovery. Below are some tips and recommendations to help you from the day of the procedure to your full recovery.

Ensure a Smooth Recovery

On the Day of the Procedure:

  • Numbness: When you return home, your mouth may feel numb for a few minutes. Avoid biting your lips or tongue during this period. Once the anesthetic wears off, pain will peak in the first few hours. You can manage any discomfort with painkillers as directed by your dentist.

  • Bleeding: Your dentist will provide a gauze pad to bite down on for 30 minutes, facilitating blood clot formation and stopping bleeding. If bleeding recurs, repeat the process with a new, clean compress.

  • Swelling: Minimize swelling in the days following by applying ice to the cheek near the extraction site for 20 minutes every hour. After the initial 24 hours, switch to warmth for muscle relaxation.

  • Oral Hygiene: Refrain from brushing your teeth on the first day. Gently rinse your mouth by moving only your head. In the subsequent days, brush and floss without touching the extraction site.

  • Diet: Stick to soft foods and lukewarm liquids on the extraction day. Chew only on the opposite side in the following days. Gradually resume your regular diet, chewing on both sides as comfort allows. In the first week, it's essential to ensure a balanced and healthy diet to promote wound healing.

  • Physical Activity: Limit physical activity and prioritize rest in the initial 24 hours. Sleeping with your head elevated can help reduce the risk of bleeding.

  • Prescription Medication: Follow your dentist's prescription carefully to manage pain and inflammation and reduce the risk of postoperative infection.

Don'ts After Tooth Extraction

  • Avoid dislodging the blood clot by refraining from smoking, rinsing vigorously, or using a straw.

  • Do not touch the wound with your tongue or fingers.

  • Steer clear of alcohol, hot, spicy, or hard foods and drinks.

  • Refrain from chewing on the extraction side.
  • Avoid engaging in strenuous activity on the first day.

  • Do not brush teeth near the extraction site for the first 72 hours.

The Next Days Until Full Recovery

  • Rinse your mouth with lukewarm salt water three times a day (1/2 teaspoon of salt in a cup of water).

  • Brush and floss daily, avoiding the extraction area for the first 72 hours.

  • Stay away from hard foods like nuts, almonds, and ice cubes.

  • Bruising and difficulty opening your mouth may occur, but they should -improve within the first week.

  • If you notice increasing pain, fever, nausea, bleeding, or severe swelling, contact your dentist promptly.


A successful recovery from tooth extraction depends on proactive measures taken before, during, and after the procedure.

Before the extraction, it's crucial to discuss potential complications and risk factors with your dentist. If risk factors are present, measures will be taken to ensure a smooth procedure and recovery. After the procedure, it's crucial to diligently follow the postoperative advice and recommendations.

It's also a good idea to monitor the wound regularly for any signs of complication. If you notice anything unusual, contact your dentist. In general, the side effects of tooth extraction are not that serious and can be managed with known treatments.