Wisdom teeth, or the third molars, usually erupt between 17-25 and often fail to grow through the gums. Impacted wisdom teeth are prevalent in the lower jaw, and the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons reveals that 90% of people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. As a result, dentists commonly recommend removing them. Ninety-five percent of teeth extractions among persons aged 16-21 are wisdom teeth extractions.
Wisdom teeth removal is very common and requires surgical intervention in most cases.
Post-surgery, complaints like discomfort, pain, jaw stiffness, and soft tissue swelling are common. Most of these symptoms reduce with proper home care and medications.
Recovery following surgery can vary from a few days to two weeks. Following the dentist's instructions thoroughly can help facilitate recovery.
While the surgical procedure to remove wisdom teeth can be simple for some, others might experience post-operative complications. Knowing what to expect after a wisdom teeth surgery ensures a smooth recovery.
What to expect on the day of surgery
Wisdom tooth extraction is an outpatient procedure, so you're home the same day. If you get local anesthetic or sedation during surgery, you will most likely awaken in the dental chair.
It can take up to a few hours to regain the full sensation of the surgical site and tongue. It is common to have discomfort and a bitter taste in your mouth. Stay calm and listen to the dentist's instructions carefully. Biting on a gauze pad at the extraction region (for up to 60 minutes) may be advised. A dentist or surgeon may also recommend an ice pack during the first few hours following surgery.
It's best not to drive right after the procedure. Therefore, dentists recommend bringing someone along who can get you home safely.
What can you expect after wisdom teeth removal?
After wisdom teeth extraction, some discomfort, pain, jaw stiffness, soft tissue swelling, and mild bleeding are common.
However, in some cases, infection after surgery, dry socket (when a freshly formed blood clot is expelled from the extraction site), sinus communication, and nerve injury are possible complications. These outcomes can be prevented by following extensive post-operative recommendations. If you feel continuous, unreasonable discomfort, contact your dentist immediately.
Timelines for postoperative recovery
After a wisdom teeth removal, you may experience the following:
- A throbbing pain and swollen lips and cheeks, which may be intense for the first couple of days, but will progressively lessen. Gently placing a cool towel on your face helps minimize swelling.
- Your symptoms should be much better by the third day following surgery, and within a week of surgery, all discomfort and bleeding usually disappear.
- A stiff, aching jaw can follow. With proper medicines, it should go away in 7 to 10 days.
- Having an unpleasant taste in your mouth, tingling or numbness of your face, lips, or tongue (paresthesia) is common. It is usually transient and alleviates over 1-2 weeks.
- The gap left behind by extraction can take months to fill in and heal completely. Maintaining good oral hygiene reduces the risk of food accumulation and infection.
How much time do you need to recover?
Each surgery is unique. The complexity depends on how much bone and gums need to be removed, the tooth angulation, and the patient's age. Complete recovery might take up to two weeks. However, most patients return to their daily routine in 5-6 days.
Ways to stay comfortable and facilitate recovery
You might experience face swelling, mild to moderate pain, and limited mouth opening after a wisdom teeth removal. Dentists recommend painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the symptoms. If you experience serious difficulty, consult your dentist.
Rest for 2-3 days. Avoiding strenuous activities is recommended.
- Avoid touching the surgical area. The blood over your wisdom teeth wound covers and cures the wound. If the blot clot is disturbed, you will experience more discomfort and risk infection — known as a dry socket.
- To clean the wound, rinse with salt water, starting 24 hours after the surgery. After rinsing, do not spit the water out. Instead, once done, let the water fall out of your mouth.
- Applying an ice pack to your cheek for a few days after surgery minimizes swelling.
- Use an additional pillow to elevate your head at night to help minimize edema and swelling.
- Avoid drinking through a straw and smoking to heal faster.
- Avoid drinking fruit juices and hot beverages since they might slow healing.
- Solid foods can also be problematic. Soups and meals that can be mashed in the mouth are better options.
- Take medications as prescribed.
- Gently massage and stretch jaws if you feel your mouth opening is restricted.
In most cases, post-procedural discomforts are temporary and begin to disappear within a week after surgery. Follow your dentist's instructions after a wisdom teeth removal.
Returning to normal life
Within 1-2 weeks, you can return to your everyday life and work. After having your wisdom teeth extracted and any swelling and bruising have subsided, your mouth and face should return to normal. After a few days, you should be able to brush your teeth regularly. However, make sure you finish any antibiotics you've been prescribed.
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Should you have your wisdom teeth removed?
- Annals of Medicine and Surgery. Quality of life after extraction of mandibular wisdom teeth: A systematic review.
- National Health Service. Wisdom Tooth Removal Recovery.