Dissolvable (absorbable) stitches (sutures) are used to close wounds or surgical incisions, typically inside the body.

Some wounds or incisions are closed by a combination of dissolvable stitches below the surface and nondissolvable stitches, or staples, on top.

Dissolvable stitches are treated by the body as foreign objects that don’t belong. The immune system generates an inflammatory response to dissolve, or eradicate, the perceived invasion.

Because dissolvable stitches may create more scarring than nondissolvable ones do, they’re most often used internally rather than externally.

Dissolvable stitches are designed to disintegrate on their own, over a specific amount of time. They’re made of ingredients that absorb readily into skin.

Suture ingredients are always sterile. They include:

  • synthetic polymer materials, such as polydioxanone, polyglycolic acid, polyglyconate, and polylactic acid
  • natural materials, such as purified catgut, collagen, sheep intestines, cow intestines, and silk (though stitches made of silk are usually treated as permanent)

Several factors determine the amount of time it takes for dissolvable stitches to break down and disappear. These include:

  • the surgical procedure used or type of wound being closed
  • the type of stitches used to close the incision or wound
  • suture material type
  • The size of the suture used

This timeframe can range from a few days to one to two weeks or even several months. For example, wisdom tooth removal may require dissolvable stitches that will dissolve within a few weeks.

The type of sutures used for specific procedures may be determined, in part, by your doctor’s preference and expertise. Dissolvable stitches may be used in cases where follow-up wound care isn’t needed.

Procedures that might use dissolvable stitches include the following.

Oral surgery

Dissolvable stitches are used after tooth extraction, such as wisdom tooth removal, to tack the gum tissue flap back into its original place. A curved suture needle is used, and the number of stitches required is based upon the size of the tissue flap and each individual’s needs.

Cesarean delivery

Some doctors prefer staples while others prefer dissolvable stitches after cesarean delivery. You may wish to discuss the pros and cons of each with your doctor prior to your delivery to determine which type is best for you.

A randomized, clinical trial conducted at three U.S. hospitals found that women who had C-sections with dissolvable stitches had a 57 percent decrease in wound complications over women who had their wounds closed with staples.

Breast cancer tumor removal

If you have breast cancer, your surgeon will remove the cancerous tumor, surrounding tissue, and possibly several lymph nodes. If they use dissolvable stitches, the stitches will be placed in areas where scarring can be reduced as much as possible.

Knee replacement surgery

Knee surgery, including knee replacement surgery, may use dissolvable stitches, nondissolvable stitches, or a combination of the two. In some instances, a line of dissolvable stitches will be used under the skin to reduce surface scarring.

A material that’s commonly used for dissolvable stitches in orthopedic surgeries, like knee surgery, is polydioxanone. These stitches can take about six months to completely dissolve.

It’s not unusual for a dissolvable stitch to poke out from under the skin before it has completely dissolved. Unless the wound has opened, is bleeding, or shows signs of infection, this is not cause for alarm.

Unlike with permanent sutures, dissolvable ones are much less likely to create stitch reactions such as infection or granulomas.

Signs of infection include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • oozing
  • fever
  • pain

You may be tempted to try to cut or pull the stitch out, but your wound may not have fully healed. It’s better to have patience and let the process take its course. Let your doctor know about your concerns.

Also, ask your doctor how long the dissolvable stitches are designed to remain intact for your specific procedure.

If more time than that has passed, they may recommend you come in to have the stitch snipped or can let you know if you can remove it yourself.

Dissolvable stitches that poke through the skin may fall off themselves, perhaps in the shower from the force of the water or by rubbing against the fabric of your clothing. That’s because they’re continuing to dissolve under your skin.

As mentioned above, it’s important not to remove a dissolvable stitch on your own without getting your doctor’s approval first.

If you doctor approves, make sure to use sterilized equipment, such as a surgical scissor, and to wash your hands thoroughly. You’ll also need to sterilize the area with rubbing alcohol. Check out this step-by-step guide for removing stitches at home.

Wound care instructions given to you by your doctor may include information about keeping the area clean, dry, and covered as well as using antibacterial ointment.

The information given to you will likely include how often to change your wound’s dressing. You may also be told to limit your physical activity.

Follow your doctor’s directions and their wound care instructions carefully, and keep an eye out for signs of infection.

Dissolvable stitches are used for many types of surgical procedures and for wound care. These types of stitches are designed to dissipate on their own, over time.

If you’re having a surgical procedure, ask your surgeon about the type of sutures you’ll receive and how long you can expect them to remain in place.

Be sure to ask about follow-up care and what you should do if a dissolvable stitch doesn’t dissolve on its own.