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Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars found in the back of your mouth. They usually fully emerge through your gums between the ages of 18 to 24.

Wisdom teeth removal is the most common dental surgery in the United States. It makes up about 95 percent of tooth extractions among people with insurance between the ages of 16 to 21. Dentists often recommend removing your wisdom teeth if they’re currently causing dental problems, or if they think wisdom teeth may cause problems in the future.

Surgical removal of your wisdom teeth commonly causes jaw swelling, bruising, and pain that may make sleeping uncomfortable.

Let’s look at some ways you can minimize your discomfort and increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Some people experience more pain than others after wisdom teeth extraction, but almost everybody has some discomfort. Here are some ways you can minimize pain while trying to sleep.

  • Take any pain relievers as prescribed. If your dental surgeon prescribes you pain relievers, you should take them as directed.
  • Take ibuprofen. You can take ibuprofen if you’re not prescribed other pain medication. This is as long as you do not have any medical conditions that may interfere with it, and if your oral surgeon says it’s OK. Research shows that taking one dose of 400 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen is better than taking 1,000 mg of Tylenol, and taking both ibuprofen and Tylenol can be even more effective at relieving pain than either medication alone. Make sure to not exceed maximum daily doses and follow directions from your surgeon.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Keeping your room dark and cool and following other habits before bed that help you sleep may help take your mind off your pain.
  • Elevate your head. Try elevating your head by using an extra pillow at night to help reduce swelling and promote clotting.
  • Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your side allows you to more easily keep your head propped up on a pillow compared to sleeping on your back.
  • Apply ice. A 2019 review of studies found some evidence that ice applied in the first few days after wisdom tooth extraction helps reduce swelling. You can apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to your jaw for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Follow your surgeon’s other instructions. It’s a good idea to follow any other particular advice your surgeon gives you for reducing your symptoms.

When healing from a wisdom tooth extraction, it’s important to take care not to dislodge the blood clots forming in your wounds, particularly in the first 24 hours. Dislodging or improper formation of a blood clot can cause a condition called dry socket. This is one of the most common complications of wisdom tooth surgery and may occur on days 3 to 5.

To minimize your risk of complications, it’s a good idea to avoid the following habits:

  • Sleeping flat on your back. The RICE protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation is commonly recommended for promoting injury recovery. Use an extra pillow or two to elevate and support your head when sleeping.
  • Brushing around your wounds. It’s a good idea to avoid brushing around the surgery site for at least the first 24 hours to avoid dislodging your blood clot.
  • Staying up late. It’s important to get plenty of rest to give your body the time it needs to heal itself.
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking. Alcohol and tobacco can both interfere with your body’s ability to heal itself. It’s a good idea to avoid these activities for at least 24 hours after your surgery, and ideally until you’re fully healed.

The purpose of gauze is to help your body clot the wound by applying light pressure against your wound. You should never sleep with gauze in your mouth because it’s a potential choking hazard.

It’s also critical to take care not to fall asleep when you’re lying down with gauze in your mouth, especially if you’re taking medications that may cause drowsiness.

It can take weeks to fully heal from a wisdom tooth extraction, but taking good care of your wounds can help you minimize your recovery time. Some morning habits that may help include:

  • taking any medication as prescribed by your doctor
  • assessing for signs of infection or other complications
  • icing your face with an ice pack or frozen veggies wrapped in a cloth
  • after the first 24 hours, gently rinsing your mouth with an antiseptic mouth wash to help kill bacteria that can lead to infection
  • sticking to soft foods for breakfast, such as eggs and smoothies, that are unlikely to irritate your wounds

It’s normal to experience some discomfort after having your wisdom teeth removed. Taking pain medications as prescribed by your doctor, creating a comfortable sleeping environment, and keeping your head elevated may help you manage pain and swelling when trying to sleep.

If your pain gets worse, you develop new pain, or you have swollen lymph nodes under your jaw, you may have developed an infection or dry socket. If you suspect you have one of these conditions, you should call your oral surgeon’s office.