Rare complication requires expert care from UK Dentistry

Dr. Larry Cunningham with staff member

When a patient has their wisdom teeth extracted, surgeons provide information about what to expect after the operation, as well as potential complications that may occur from the surgery.

For most patients, following the guidelines for proper care keeps these issues from arising. Unfortunately, that’s not true for all patients. It certainly wasn’t for Davina Leedy.

Concerns after surgery

Leedy had a wisdom tooth that wouldn’t grow through the gums and caused several infections. Ultimately, she decided to have the tooth removed.

A local oral surgeon performed her initial surgery, but shortly after, Leedy realized something was amiss with her recovery. When Leedy went back to the doctor a week later, her lower jaw was still numb. The numbness in her face eventually went away, but it was replaced by excruciating pain in her lower chin and lip.

“It hurt when the wind would blow or even when my hair would touch it [my face],” Leedy said.

There was only one physician in the state of Kentucky who had the training to provide the treatment Leedy needed: Dr. Larry Cunningham, chief of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the UK College of Dentistry and an oral surgeon with UK Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Expert care, close to home

As Leedy eventually learned, the root of her wisdom tooth had been positioned so close to the nerve in her jaw that removing the tooth had disrupted the nerve, causing the numbness and then  pain. Initially the issue was treated with medications to try and relieve her pain, but these medications were only marginally helpful.

In January 2016, Leedy opted for a more permanent and extensive fix: neuroplasty and a graft of her inferior alveolar nerve. Although Leedy worried about the complex procedure, she was thankful she was able to receive the care she needed with Dr. Cunningham at UK HealthCare, just a short drive from her home.

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

Leedy’s four-hour surgery was extensive and complicated. Her injured nerve traveled within the lower jaw bone. That meant her lower jaw bone needed to be cut in order for Cunningham to see the nerve and repair it. Once the injured portion of the nerve was removed, the nerve graft was placed in the defect. After the procedure, it can take several months before feeling comes back to the affected area.

Looking back on her operation, Leedy said she’s grateful there was a doctor at UK who could help her.

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

‘The pain is gone’

As Leedy’s original physician pointed out to her, the issue she experienced is not very common. The doctor told her that in his 30 years practicing, her case was only the third time he’d seen this complication.

Cunningham agreed and said nerve injuries after dental work occur in less than 1 percent of wisdom tooth extractions. That explains why Leedy had “no idea this complication could happen.”

Since her procedure, Leedy has been pain free and has regained much of the feeling in her jaw. She’ll continue to have follow-up visits to monitor her improvement, but so far, so good.

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

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    Patient Stories-Dental Health