How to Extract a Tooth



Many of our readers are often surprised that a medical doctor and nurse devote a portion of their writing to dental issues. Few people who are otherwise medically prepared seem to devote much time to dental health. History, however, tells us that problems with teeth take up a significant portion of the medic’s patient load.  In the Vietnam War, medical personnel noted that fully half of those who reported to daily sick call came with dental complaints.  In a long-term survival situation, you might find yourself as dentist as well as nurse or doctor.

How to Extract a Tooth

The basis of modern dentistry is to save every tooth if at all possible.  In the old days (not biblical times, I mean 50 years ago), the main treatment for a diseased tooth was extraction.  If we find ourselves in a collapse situation, that’s how it will be in the future.

If you delay extracting a tooth because it “isn’t that bad yet”, it will likely get worse. It could spread to other teeth or cause an infection that could spread to your bloodstream (called “sepsis”) and cause major damage.  Like it or not, a survival medic, will eventually find himself or herself in a situation where you have to remove a diseased tooth.


Tooth extraction is not an enjoyable experience as it is, and will be less so in a long-term survival situation with no power and limited supplies.  Unlike baby teeth, a permanent tooth is unlikely to be removed simply by wiggling it out with your (gloved) hand or tying a string to it and the nearest doorknob and slamming. Knowledge of the procedure, however, will be important for anyone expecting to be the medical caregiver in the aftermath of a major disaster.

Before we go any further, I have to inform you that I am not a dentist, just an old country doctor.  Please note that this is an introductory article, and that tooth extraction can be a complex procedure. Also note:  It is illegal and punishable by law to practice dentistry without a license.  The lack of formal training or experience in dentistry may cause complications that are much worse than a bum tooth. If you have access to modern dental care, seek it out.

The anatomy of the tooth is relatively simple for such an important part of our body, and is worth reviewing.  The part of the tooth that you see above the gum line is called the “crown”.  Below it, you have the “root”.  The bony socket that the tooth resides in is called the “alveolus”.  Teeth are anchored to the alveolar bone with ligaments, just like you have ligaments holding together your ankle or shoulder.

The tooth is composed of different materials:

Enamel:  The hard white external covering of the tooth crown.

Dentin:    bony yellowish material under the enamel, and surrounding the pulp.

Pulp:        connective tissue with blood vessels and nerves endings in the central portion of the tooth.


To extract a permanent tooth, you will, at the very least, need the following:

A dental extraction forceps (#150A is a good general one for uppers and #151 is reasonable for lowers; they get much more specialized for each type of tooth, however).

A periosteal (meaning “around the bone”) elevator instrument to loosen the ligaments holding the tooth in place.

A typical dental elevator ->

Gauze or cotton rolls or squares and a “pickup” forceps or tweezers.

A very cooperative patient or a good local anesthetic.

Proper positioning will help you perform the procedure more easily. For an upper extraction (also called “maxillary extraction”), the patient should be tipped at a 60 degree angle to the floor and the patient’s mouth should be at the level of the medic’s elbow.  For a lower extraction, (also called a “mandibular extraction”), the patient should be sitting upright with the level of the mouth lower than the elbow.  For right-handed medics, stand to the right of the patient; for left-handers, stand to the left.  For uppers and most front lower extractions, it is best to position yourself in front.  For lower molars, some prefer to position themselves somewhat behind the patient.

Tooth Extraction Procedure

To begin with, you will want to wash your hands and put on gloves, a face mask, and some eye protection. Floss the teeth and give the patient an antibacterial rinse.  Keep the area around the tooth as dry as possible, so that you can see what you’re doing.  There will be some bleeding, so have cotton balls or rolled gauze squares available.  These may have to be changed from time to time if you place them between the cheek and gum.

Ligaments surrounding tooth

The teeth are held in place in their sockets by ligaments, which are fibrous connective tissue.  These ligaments must be severed to loosen the tooth with an elevator, which looks like a  small chisel.  Go between the tooth in question and the gum on all sides and apply a small amount of pressure to get down to the root area.  This should loosen the tooth and expand the bony socket.  Expect some bleeding.

Grasping the tooth with the extraction forceps

Take your extraction forceps and grasp the tooth as far down the root as possible.  This will give you the best chance of removing the tooth in its entirety the first time.  For front teeth (which have 1 root), exert pressure straight downward for uppers and straight upward for lowers, after first loosening the tooth with your elevator.  For teeth with more than 1 root, such as molars, a rocking motion will help loosen the tooth further as you extract.  Once loose, avoid damage to neighboring teeth by extracting towards the cheek (or lip, for front teeth) rather than towards the tongue.  This is best for all but the lower molars that are furthest back.

After the Extraction:

Use your other hand to support the mandible (lower jaw) in the case of lower extractions. If the tooth breaks during extraction (not uncommon), you will have to remove the remaining root.  Use your elevator to further loosen the root and help push it outward.

Afterwards, place a folded gauze on the bleeding socket and have the patient bite down. Occasionally, a suture may be required if bleeding is heavy.  In a recent Cuban study, veterinary super glue (N-butyl-2-cyanoacrylate) was used in over 100 patients in this circumstance with good success in controlling both bleeding and pain.  Dermabond has been used in some cases in the U.S. for temporary pain relief, but more research is needed.

Place folded gauze post-extraction and bite down to decrease bleeding

Expect some swelling, pain, and even bruising over the next few days.  Cold packs will decrease swelling for the first 24-48 hours; afterwards, use warm compresses to help with the inevitable jaw stiffness. Also, consider antibiotics, as infection is a possible complication.  Liquids and a diet of soft foods should be given to decrease trauma to the area.

Use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine such as Ibuprofen for pain.  Some recommend staying away from aspirin, as it may hinder blood clotting in the socket. The blood clot is your friend, so make sure not to smoke, spit, or even use straws; the pressure effect might dislodge it, which could cause a painful condition called Alveolar Osteitis or “dry socket”.  You will see that the clot is gone and may notice a foul odor in the person’s breath.  Antibiotics and warm salt water gargles are useful here, and a solution of water with a small amount of Clove oil may serve to decrease the pain.  Don’t use too much clove oil, as it could burn the mouth.

A case of Alveolar Osteitis (Dry Socket)

In a long-term survival situation, difficult decisions will have to be made. If modern dentistry is gone due to a mega-catastrophe, the survival medic will have to take on that role just as he/she may have to take on the role of medical caregiver. Performing dental procedures without training and experience, however, is a bad idea in any other scenario.  Never perform a dental procedure on someone for any reason, if you have modern dental care available to you.

Dr. Bones

Here are some very useful links and references:

(molar extraction)

(slideshow on extraction techniques – important to review) 

(an extraction performed at Mt. Everest base camp – note positioning of the dentist, use of the opposite hand for support,  and improvisations)

(guide to extraction forceps and procedures)


Use of N-butyl-2-cyanoacrylate in oral surgery: biological and clinical evaluation. (Cuban Study)

Pérez M, Fernández I, Márquez D, Bretaña RM.


Clínica Estomatológica Docente de Bauta, Provincia Habana; and Centre of Biomaterials of Havana University, Havana, Cuba.


N-butyl-2-cyanoacrylate based tissue adhesive, Tisuacryl, was employed as a nonsuture method for closing wounds in oral surgery. One hundred thirty patients were treated with the adhesive and 30 with suture. The surgical procedures were apicectomy, extraction of molars, and mucogingival grafting. The studied product was well tolerated by the tissue and permitted immediate hemostasis and normal healing of incisions. When Tisuacryl was used as dressing material for donor sites and mucosal ulcerations, pain relief was observed.




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31 Responses to “How to Extract a Tooth”

  1. disqus_BBMH9XZnzX says:

    My daughter has those sideways wisdom teeth that need to come out and we were told that she has a nerve in the middle that could cause paralysis if touched. they are planning to cut to top of tooth off and leave the rest alone. The surgery is not scheduled until Dec. What happens if things go south before then. How would a non dentist handle such a difficult tooth extraction??

    • Dr. Bones says:

      With great difficulty, as this is a case where experience and training have no substitute.. I am concerned that the root material might become infected, discuss the risk of infection with your dentist. Major dental infections will become a possibly life threatening issue in SHTF situations.

  2. Upper molars generally have 3 roots, 2 on the outside/cheek side, and 1 on the inside…like a tripod. Keep this in mind while loosening. Dont rush the loosening process, this is the most important part of the extraction. If you have trouble stopping bleeding, bite on a moistened regular tea bag for about 45 minutes. Do not extract a tooth if you are on a blood thinning medication…this includes many “G” herbs such as Ginko and Ginseng…stop those meds or herbs for at least 5 days prior to extracting. Warm salt water rinses the next day…a pinch of salt in an 8oz glass. After that, antibacterial rinses are fine. – an Dental Hygienist in the real world ;)

  3. […] Medicine with Dr Bones & Nurse Amy | Doom and Bloom (TM) How to Extract a ToothOctober 3, 2012 1 Comment Email Many of our readers are often surprised that a medical doctor and nurse devote a portion […]

  4. Howard says:

    Excellent article, could you show what the elevator looks like?e

  5. Good article and to think I almost became a dentist lol

  6. […] Originally published at […]

  7. Judyturt says:

    I don’t know if I could do this. I feel dizzy just looking at the pictures!

  8. Thanks for another great post! I’m going to print this one out to keep with my supplies for future reference. I’ve often wondered if the current practice of saving every tooth is more for profit than for a person’s well being? What are your thoughts?

    • Incidentally, I added some tooth extractors to the preps this week…I can’t let my wife see those or she’ll really think I flipped my lid! :)

    • leoele says:

      I know this comment was four months ago, but I wanted to respond. After extracting a tooth, the ones opposite (above, as well as in front and behind) will start to move into the space. Teeth will tip, periodontal pockets will form, and the bone will eventually erode. It time, other teeth will be lost. Once you start taking them out, it’s a very slippery slope indeed.

      • doomandbloom says:

        You are absolutely right, tooth extraction is meant to deal with a dental emergency, but like many other medical procedures, it has consequences. Thanks for your input.

        Dr. Bones

  9. Mike says:

    In a collapse situation, what could/would be used as an anesthetic? All of the ones that I’ve seen used are a liquid, which I understand does not store well long term. I wouldn’t want to see this done without something though!

    • Michael Camp says:

      you can buy lidocane on line, the injectable solution, but you have to be careful using it, there are or can be problems related to the use of lidocane, but I think it is essential when working on teeth.

      • Dr Bones says:

        The issue with lidocaine is that accidental injection directly into a blood vessel may cause heart arrhythmia and seizures. Always aspirate the plunger of the syringe before injecting; if blood enters the syringe, pull out and try again.

        Dr. Bones

  10. Michael Camp says:

    Hi Dr, and Nurse, I ordered some material from the UK, self curing filling material and temporary filling material. eventually yourself or someone you love is going to need a filling rather than lose a tooth. you cant find the stuff in the USA, but you can order it from the UK. it works great and I have used it on myself with great success. people should really study up on dental care, ie; how and where to give injections for removing teeth or working on teeth, everyones knows there are few things as painful as teeth, or having someone poking around them when they are failing. everyone should pack their own dental kits, I also tried making a temp compound per a recipe, ddidn’t work very well, the large jars of the stuff are cheap $11 shipping included…check it out at AtoZ dental. I truly love all your informative posts

    • Dr Bones says:

      Clove bud oil and zinc oxide, when mixed, makes a serviceable filling compound and can be obtained in quantity inexpensively.
      Thanks for the kind words and support!

      Dr. Bones

  11. […] How to Extract a Tooth | Medical Preparedness | Doom and Bloom (TM) | Doom and Bloom (TM) Go to this article […]

  12. Packratt says:

    Is it possible to self-extract a front tooth, perhaps a canine or first bicuspid, by several days of slow but firm wiggling of the tooth to loosen it and then a steady and firm pull without tools (other than a gloved hand or other non-slip aid)?

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Packratt,

      You would be best served using dental tools such as a dental elevator to loosen the ligaments that hold the tooth in place. Your method may have a higher chance of part of the root being retained in the socket.

      Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. bones

  13. Kylia says:

    Hi im 14 and I have this really bad cavity and last night my tooth broke in half and is causing me pain. I wanted to know if it is safe to pull it out because my family is in need of money and they already paid thousands of dollars on my mouth. It is a lower left molar and I am being really hard on myself right now because I feel so bad for my parents and I never brushed my teeth when I was younger and hated it now I totaly regret it.

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Kylia,

      The local university will likely have a dental school that has a clinic where the residents practice in the presence of dental professors. This is your best bet to get this done safely in normal times. Make an appointment with them, it’s usually free or very inexpensive. For the time being, you can use clove oil as a dental anesthetic. Careful, because it burns if you get it on your gums.

      all the best,

      Joe Alton, M.D.

  14. This is a very well written article, you will definitely get a lot of information from it. Tooth extraction is indeed an important oral surgery if you have a severe tooth decay, crowded mouth and periodontal (gum) disease. But it is essential to go to a professional dentist or oral surgeon when having this kind of operation. I will surely share this piece.

    • Dr Bones says:

      In normal times, also seek standard dental care by qualified professionals.
      Thanks, Paul, for the kind words.

      Joe Alton, M.D.

  15. Scott says:

    Though not a medical professional, I have many in my family who are and, were dismayed that I pursued other disciplines, lol. (2 degrees in other area’s) Yet living with medical professionals and, having a compassion for my fellow mankind as I walk through life, especially in these trying times; May I honestly say to you sir, you are a gentleman and a scholar for sharing such advice/knowledge/compassion. (If that means anything from a ‘layman’, lol) Your diligence and service will be rewarded in due time as I am sure you believe and know. . . .

  16. Tonya says:

    My back upper 3 teeth; 1 is a wisdom tooth. The last molar is broken down to the gum, the back regular molar is broken and loose the other tooth is chipped almost to the nerve. I do not have dental insurance and can’t afford the dentist, the schools out here only work on their students at the college. I’m in so much pain any suggestions I should do

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Tonya,

      I’m so sorry about your dental issues. In your circumstance, you can alleviate some of the pain with clove oil (avoid the gums, it can burn) on the tooth. Eventually, you need dental care by professionals. There are many dental schools that accept outside patients, but you’ll have to travel. I think it’s worth researching it…

      all the best,
      Joe Alton, MD

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