Your wisdom teeth are the last of your teeth to erupt through the gums. Sometimes there’s not enough jaw space to accommodate these final four teeth, and your dentist may recommend wisdom tooth removal.
Surgical removal of a wisdom tooth is done by a specialist, such as an oral surgeon. After surgery, your mouth will begin healing by forming a blood clot over the holes where wisdom teeth were located.
While the blood clot is forming, you may get food particles in the hole. This is perfectly normal. If the food particle isn’t too uncomfortable, leaving it alone is an option, and it’ll eventually dislodge itself.
If you do choose to dislodge it, you must do so safely so that the blood clot or stitches (if you have them) aren’t disrupted, and so that you don’t introduce bacteria into the area.
Avoid picking the food out with your fingers, tongue, or any instrument that’s sharp or unsterilized.
Read on to learn how to safely remove food stuck in a wisdom tooth hole, and what to watch out for while a wisdom tooth hole is healing.
Don’t rinse your mouth for the first 24 hours after surgery. After that, if food lodges in a wisdom tooth hole, you can rinse your mouth with warm salt water (saline) to help dislodge the food.
How to rinse properly
- Mix 1 teaspoon of table salt into an 8-ounce glass of warm or room temperature water. Don’t use hot or cold water.
- Don’t swish the water vigorously, as this may dissolve the blood clot that’s forming over the wisdom tooth hole.
- Don’t spit the rinse out. Let the water fall out of your mouth into the sink when you’re done.
- Repeat rinsing up to four times.
If salt water is uncomfortable, try rinsing the area with lukewarm herbal tea.
Some good ones to try are teas with anti-inflammatory properties, such as:
Use the same procedure you would for a saltwater rinse, and don’t spit the tea out. Let it fall out of your mouth into the sink when you’re done.
Use a gentle mouthwash to rinse your mouth and teeth. But remember not to rinse your mouth the first 24 hours after surgery. And, talk with your dentist about when you can start using mouthwash.
In some instances, your surgeon or dentist may recommend a germicidal mouthwash to kill bacteria.
Follow the same directions as you would for a saltwater rinse.
A syringe can help you target the flow of water from every angle at the hole, which can help lift the food particle out.
How to use a warm water syringe
- Fill a sterile syringe with room temperature or slightly warm water.
- Hold the syringe next to the hole.
- Let the water gently hit the food from all sides. This may help lift it out.
- Make sure not to allow a forceful gush of water to land on the hole.
If you don’t have a syringe handy, using a spray bottle may also be effective. Don’t try this technique until you can hold your mouth fully open.
This device is also known as a water flosser.
Check with your dentist before you use a water flosser after your wisdom tooth removal. They may recommend you wait a few weeks.
Using a gentle setting, aim the stream of water into the area where the food particle is lodged. The flow of water may be enough to dislodge it.
You can also try to gently dislodge a food particle from a wisdom tooth hole with a clean, new, soft-bristle toothbrush.
Don’t brush vigorously. Instead, use very soft strokes.
Don’t use this technique until at least a week has passed since your surgery.
If a soft-bristle brush is uncomfortable, try using a sterile cotton swab to gently brush the area.
Be careful not to push the food particle further into the hole.
You’ll want to wait at least a week after your surgery before using this technique.
Here are some ways you can help prevent food from getting stuck in a wisdom tooth hole.
Don’t chew near the hole
Do your best to not chew food on the side of your mouth where you had the extraction. If you had multiple teeth removed, this may not be possible.
Rinse your mouth after eating
Rinse your mouth immediately after eating to help dislodge food particles and bacteria.
A saltwater rinse or germicidal mouthwash are your best bets.
Eat a soft food diet after removal
Start off with a soft food diet.
Avoid chewy foods, crunchy foods, or foods that can leave particles in the mouth, such as seeds. This will help avoid getting pieces in the wisdom tooth hole that are hard to dislodge.
Foods to avoid
- corn, on or off the cob
- steak and other chewy meats
- grain breads or toast
- hot drinks
- chewing gum
- acidic beverages, such as grapefruit juice
Avoid any suction activities
Any activity that causes suction can result in dry socket.
Dry socket is a complication of tooth extraction that’s caused by the removal of the blood clot that forms over the hole.
Drinking through a straw, smoking, or spitting can all cause dry socket.
Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms of an infection or dry socket:
- swelling that’s severe or increases after 2 or 3 days postsurgery
- severe pain or pain that gets worse instead of better
- throbbing, tingling, or a scratchy feeling in the gum
- oozing of pus
- excessive bleeding
- pus or blood in nasal discharge
- an unrelenting bad or sour taste that doesn’t dissipate with rinsing
Infections can occur after any type of surgical procedure, including wisdom tooth removal. Infections must be treated by a dentist or doctor.
Some symptoms of infection and dry socket are similar. They include:
- bad breath
- unpleasant taste in the mouth
If you have dry socket, you may also see visible bone in the tooth socket.
It takes anywhere from 3 to 7 days to recover fully from minor wisdom tooth surgery.
Recovering from extensive procedures may take several weeks longer. During that time, you may have residual bleeding and swelling. Other symptoms to expect include bruising on the outside of your cheek and soreness in your jaw.
Recovery time for wisdom tooth holes will be determined by how extensive the surgery was and whether you had stitches. Holes from complicated extractions can take up to 6 weeks or longer to close up.
Tips to speed up recovery
- Keep the hole from wisdom tooth removal covered with a sterile gauze pad for 45 to 60 minutes after surgery to aid the formation of a blood clot.
- Replace the sterile gauze pad often in the first hour after wisdom tooth removal until bleeding has stopped. Try applying pressure by closing your mouth with the gauze in place. If bleeding doesn’t stop or is very heavy, talk with your dentist.
- Don’t rinse the area for the first 24 hours after surgery unless otherwise instructed by your dentist.
- After the first 24 hours, keep the area clean by rinsing with warm salt water to help dislodge particles of food and bacteria.
- If you smoke, avoid doing so during your recovery.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed. Some impacted wisdom teeth remain below the gum line and never erupt.
Some impacted wisdom teeth that don’t erupt right away may still cause crowding or other issues with your teeth and jaw. Have your dentist monitor wisdom teeth that haven’t been removed in case problems arise.
When wisdom teeth should be removed
- They’re causing discomfort or pain in the gums, sinuses, or along the side of your face and neck.
- They’re impacted and likely to do damage to the jaw bone or other teeth.
- They’re causing tooth crowding in the mouth due to lack of space.
- They’re partially erupted and are vulnerable to infection due to their shape or angle.
- They’ve come in crooked and can possibly damage other teeth.
After wisdom tooth extraction, a hole may be visible in the tooth’s socket. This hole will eventually be closed up by a blood clot.
If you have any signs of infection or dry socket, talk with your dentist.
Try to keep food particles out of the hole. If you do get food in a wisdom tooth hole, don’t panic — there are several ways to remove it.
You can also leave food particles alone if they don’t bother you. They may eventually fall out themselves.
Keep in mind that a wisdom tooth hole heals from the bottom up, not from the top down. You don’t have to worry about food getting trapped permanently under the gums.