The wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that often show up beginning in late adolescence. When these teeth appear, they can cause real problems — including impaction, infection, and other issues. A big part of a successful wisdom tooth extraction procedure is what you do at home while you heal. Your oral surgeon in Houston recommends taking it easy and letting the healing happen naturally, but there are some things you can do to speed up the recovery process and get back on your feet sooner.
Prepare for your wisdom tooth extraction recovery before your surgery. Schedule your surgery to take place when you have a few days off for recovery. After the procedure is complete, you will undergo a recovery period of about 2 weeks if everything goes correctly. Planning ahead will ensure that you’re prepared for a restful, relaxing recovery.
#1 Plan for Someone to Come with You
You should ask a trusted friend or family member to drive you to and from the procedure. In most cases, wisdom tooth extractions are performed under local anesthetic (numbing) and oral conscious dental sedation. For advanced surgical tooth extractions, we may even recommend general anesthesia (true sleep dentistry) to ensure comfort. After dental sedation or general anesthesia, you’ll need someone to drive you home and help you follow postoperative instructions.
#2 Prep Your Fridge Ahead of Time
After your wisdom tooth removal, you’ll need to avoid solid foods, so you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of liquids and soft food items in your refrigerator and pantry. Some food items that are ideal during recovery from wisdom tooth removal include:
- Vegetable purees
- Vegetable juice
- Mashed potatoes
- Pudding and Jell-O
For at least a week after treatment, you should avoid hard-to-chew foods such as cereals, nuts, or popcorn can be very difficult to eat after an extraction and may wound the sensitive soft tissue at the surgical site. As you begin to add harder to chew foods back into your diet, it’s still good to skip very hot or spicy foods that can irritate the surgical site.
#3 Get Your Prescriptions & Take Them as Directed
Following tooth extractions, you may need to take prescription pain medications and/or antibiotics. Make sure you have plans to pick up these prescriptions after your procedure and start taking these prescribed medications and any over the counter medications as directed right away.
#4 Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is quite important, especially when taking prescription medications. As you recover, you should drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps to prevent common gastrointestinal concerns that occur when taking prescription medications as well as improving your overall health throughout the recovery process.
#5 Ask Someone to Check on You
Once you’re settled safely at home with soft foods and your medications, ask your friend or loved one to stay with you or check on you regularly throughout the first 24 to 48 hours after your wisdom tooth extraction. In most cases, you’ll be resting peacefully, but it’s good to have someone available to lend a hand if the need should arise.
#6 Keep Your Head Elevated
Have a few pillows on hand to keep your head elevated for the first three days as you rest. This will help to minimize swelling in the hours right after the extraction, and that means you need to keep your head elevated as you rest. You may also find it comfortable to rest in a recliner, and some people find that using an airline pillow is an easy and effective way to keep their heads comfortably elevated.
When you sleep, keep your head elevated and your upper body close to a 45-degree angle. This can help you recover faster from wisdom tooth surgery because blood volume near the wound increases when you’re lying flat, which can make the wound throb. Additionally, keeping your head elevated above your feet can reduce swelling.
#7 Reduce Swelling
Swelling and inflammation are your body’s response to injury or trauma, and they are common after wisdom tooth extractions. Typically, a day after surgery, you may experience some pain and swelling around your jaw, eyes, and cheeks. This swelling can worsen for up to 72 hours. To reduce swelling, you can apply a cold compress or ice pack to the affected cheek(s) in 15 to 20-minute intervals. Cold can also improve comfort and slow blood flow. Never apply heat to the since heat can increase blood flow, which will increase bleeding and swelling.
#8 Control Bleeding
After wisdom teeth removal, you can expect some bleeding for the first few hours or days. Starting 2 to 3 hours after your procedure, change the gauze at the surgical site every 30-60 minutes to control bleeding by biting down firmly. Biting down on gauze helps to slow bleeding and encourage a blood clot to form over the extraction site. If bleeding does not stop or worsens after the first 48 hours, you should contact your dental team for treatment instructions.
In addition to biting down on clean gauze to slow bleeding and encourage blood clot formation, many people swear by biting down on teabags. Instead of drinking a soothing cup of tea, saturate a teabag in warm water. Then, place it over the extraction site and bite down for 20 to 30-minutes. The tannic acid in the tea contracts blood vessels, reducing blood flow.
#9 Manage Pain
You will most likely start to feel pain as soon as the numbing from the surgery wears off. Your oral surgeon may prescribe something to help manage the discomfort, or you may prefer to take an over the counter medication. Whichever method you choose to relieve pain, taking pain medications consistently ensures you avoid experiencing any unnecessary discomfort by preventing high levels of pain.
#10 Don’t Disturb the Blood Clots
Dry socket is, by far, the most common concern following wisdom tooth extraction. It occurs when the blood clot is dislodged or never forms over the extraction site. Blood clots protect the wound from infection and minimize bleeding. Keeping this blood clot in place is very important. If it is dislodged for any reason, the result can be tremendous pain when the underlying bone is exposed. Dry socket can be caused by seemingly harmless activities. To ensure that the blood clots remain in place, you should not:
- Brush or floss near the extraction site
- Drink very hot beverages
- Chew hard or crunchy foods
- Drink through a straw
- Smoke or use tobacco
- Apply dry gauze or cloth to the extraction site
#11 Keep Your Surgical Site Clean
You should brush and floss teeth after your surgery but take special care to avoid the surgical site. In some cases, we will prescribe an antimicrobial oral rinse for you to use in the first week or two to limit risk of infection. If we don’t prescribe an antimicrobial mouthwash, we will instruct you to use a solution that combines one cup of warm water with one teaspoon of salt. Once these ingredients are combined, gently rinse your mouth. Do this several times a day at least once in the morning, once before bed, and after meals.
If you use an orthodontic appliance like a retainer or a nightguard for teeth grinding or TMJ dysfunction, you can resume wearing it after 24 hours unless otherwise instructed. If it is painful or seems to place unnecessary pressure on the extraction site, forego using the oral appliance and contact our Houston office.
#12 Rest, Relax, and Recover Quickly
We know you want to get back to your daily life right away, but rest is an essential part of the recovery process after tooth removal. Your body needs plenty of rest to fully recover — so make sure you give it what it needs! You will likely be very sleepy in the first day or two after the procedure as your sedative or anesthesia wears off. Then, you should gradually start to feel like yourself again starting after the first 48 hours.
#13 Keep Yourself Entertained (Distracted)
Immediately following surgery, you’ll likely be sleepy, but the last thing you want is too much time to dwell on your discomfort. It may sound silly but staying entertained and distracted from the pain after your procedure can help you feel better. Prepare enough entertainment to keep you comfortable for two to three days. Watch your favorite shows or movies, read some good books, or get some puzzle like Sudoku or crosswords. Keeping your mind busy while resting your body is a great way to feel better throughout the healing process.
#14 Exercise Your Jaw
During wisdom tooth surgery, your mouth is held wide open for an extended period of time, which can contribute to myofascial pain and cramped or sore muscles. Your mouth will feel stiff after surgery. Because of this stiffness, you may not feel like opening your mouth at all, but it’s important that you do. Otherwise, the stiffness can actually worsen. The first time you open your mouth after surgery, do it slowly and gently. You can also massage the jaw joints post surgery. Gently massaging this area for a few minutes at a time helps you recover faster because it releases some of the unnecessary tension that your jaw may be holding onto.
#15 Avoid Using Straws
As you maintain your soft foods diet, you may be tempted to drink soups, smoothies, and other liquids through a straw, but doing so could potentially dislodge the blood clot, slowing recovery. Instead of reaching for a straw, use a spoon and drink directly from your cup.
#16 Don’t Smoke or Drink Alcohol
Smoking, like drinking through a straw, can dislodge the blood clot. Additionally, tobacco and alcohol use of any kind can impede your healing. It’s best to avoid all alcohol and tobacco use for at least the first 48 hours after surgery or until the extraction site is healed and you are no longer taking medications.
#17 Don’t Blow Your Nose
Blowing your nose may seem like an innocuous behavior, but while you’re healing, this can lead to unnecessary pain. We encourage you to avoid blowing your nose for at least the first week or two after surgery. Instead, gently wipe the nose if there is nasal drainage.
#18 Avoid Dry Mouth
Following wisdom tooth extraction, you may find yourself struggling with dry mouth. This dryness can increase the number of oral bacteria. The greater number of oral bacteria can increase risk of infection at the extraction site. To avoid dry mouth, you should breathe through your nose as much as possible. Drink plenty of water and use a saltwater rinse as directed to keep your mouth clean and moisturized. In some cases, we may recommend using a moisturizer, like Biotene, for those who struggle with dry mouth before we begin treatment.
#19 Avoid Exercise & Heavy Lifting
You should avoid doing any exercise and heavy lifting immediately after the procedure and continue to rest and relax for the first three or four days. Going back to work too soon can slow healing and end up prolonging recovery time, especially if you are on your feet a lot or otherwise active on the job.
#20 Don’t Drive
For the first two days after your surgery or as long as you are taking prescription pain medications, you should not drive. The effects of dental sedation or general anesthesia can take as much as 48 hours to completely subside, so at the very least, you need to plan for alternative transportation for two days after surgery. The best option is to go straight home and rest for the first several days after your procedure.
Listen to Your Oral Surgeons & Contact Us When Necessary
Your oral surgeon in Houston may give you some instructions that differ from these suggestions. To heal as quickly as possible from your wisdom tooth removal, always listen to your oral surgeon’s instructions. They know your situation, and they will offer you instructions that most benefit you. If you follow all postoperative instructions, you should heal properly and be back on your feet in no time. If, however, your symptoms worsen or do not improve after the first several days, it’s time to get in touch with your oral surgeon.
Meet the Practice
Dr. Steve Koo and Dr. Tom Weil offer wisdom teeth extractions and other oral surgery procedures from their state-of-the-art oral surgery practice in Houston, TX. If you would like to learn more about this common procedure or the recovery process, do not hesitate to contact the office at 832-293-4912.