If your dentist recommends removing your wisdom teeth, don't panic. You'll be just as wise after the extraction as you were before. In fact, when these third molars begin to affect your oral health, having them removed is the smartest decision you can make. You'll want to play it safe and follow all aftercare instructions to properly heal and prevent any complications.
Why Aftercare is Important
Dentists have been removing wisdom teeth for millions of Americans every year, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Besides some temporary bleeding, discomfort, swelling and bruising after surgery, most patients recover quickly. Nonetheless, you should know that dry socket is the most common preventable surgical complication.
A dry socket develops when the newly formed blood clot within the socket is dislodged or dissolves, exposing bone and nerve endings. In addition to severe pain, symptoms of dry socket as described by the Mayo Clinic are bad breath and an unpleasant taste in your mouth, visible bone within the socket, swollen lymph nodes in your neck area and a low-grade fever.
To prevent potential problems after removing wisdom teeth, here are your post-extraction healing instructions:
Apply ice packs to the outside of your mouth intermittently (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) for up to two days to minimize swelling, bruising or any discomfort. If your tooth was infected prior to removal, your dentist may ask you to use warm, moist compresses rather than ice.
Expect some bleeding, and keep a gauze pad over the extraction site for 30 minutes after surgery. For heavier bleeding, suggests Conestoga Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, bite down on a gauze pad or place your fingers over the pad consistently for 30 minutes before removing it. Another alternative is to use a moistened tea bag for the same amount of time. The tannic acid in the tea contracts the bleeding vessels, which helps the blood clot set.
Limit eating, drinking and talking for the first two hours following surgery, and plan to rest for the remainder of the day. To keep from dislodging the blood clot, don't rinse vigorously or use a straw when drinking. Additionally, avoid rigorous exercise for a few days, as well as smoking or spitting excessively on the day of the surgery or as long as there is bleeding. After 12 hours, you can gently rinse with a diluted mouthwash, such as Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™, or a salt water rinse. Carefully brush your teeth the night of the surgery, but avoid the surgical area as best you can.
After the bleeding stops, drink lots of lukewarm or cold fluids to keep hydrated. Eat regular meals, as advised by Reading Oral Surgery Group, but begin with clear liquids and soft foods. Puddings, gelatins, eggs, mashed potatoes and cooked cereals are good choices, as are vegetables, meats and fruits that have been liquefied in a blender. To avoid dislodging the blood clot, the AGD warns against drinking carbonated beverages and eating foods like popcorn, peanuts, and pasta that may leave particles in your socket.
Take prescribed pain medications and antibiotics for infection exactly as directed by your dentist. And remember, if you are taking a strong narcotic pain medication, you'll be asked not to drive or operate machinery and to avoid alcoholic beverages.
When to Call Your Dentist
Any pain and swelling you have should improve each day, but call your dentist if you experience any of the following:
- Swelling that gets worse instead of better.
- Excessive bleeding that won't subside with pressure.
- Severe, throbbing pain three to four days following surgery.
- An elevated fever that persists.
Whether you have one wisdom tooth removed or all four, keep in mind that your dentist knows how to get you through this procedure without complications; you just need to use your wisdom to listen.