Overview

Your back molars, also known as wisdom teeth, are the last adult teeth to emerge in your mouth. They come in on the top and bottom of both sides, usually between the ages of 17 and 21. Many people don’t have enough room in their jaws to accommodate wisdom teeth without their other teeth shifting. This can lead to a variety of problems.

If this happens to you, your dentist will likely recommend surgery to remove them. Wisdom teeth removal is very common, and recovery can take up to a week, depending on your specific case. Recovery may take longer if your wisdom teeth are impacted. This means that they haven’t emerged from below the gums yet and aren’t visible.

The day of your surgery

Wisdom teeth extraction is an outpatient surgery, which means you arrive and leave the surgery center on the same day. If you get local anesthesia or sedation during surgery, you’ll probably wake up in the dental chair. However, if you’re given general anesthesia, it takes longer for you to wake up, so you’ll be taken to a recovery room. You might not remember how you got from the dental chair to the recovery room. Ask your dentist which type of sedation to expect.

You’ll slowly regain feeling in your mouth as you wake up from surgery. Some pain and swelling is normal. The first day of recovery will also include some blood in your mouth. You can start using an ice pack on your face as soon as you’d like. You’ll also be given instructions on when and how to take medications, either prescription painkillers or something over-the-counter.

You’ll be sent home once you wake up and feel ready. It’s a really good idea, if not mandatory, to have someone else drive you home. Your dentist might insist on it, especially if you undergo general anesthesia as you won’t be able to drive for an extended period of time.

You can eat very soft foods after surgery, but avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. You should also avoid using a straw. This can lead to complications.

Long-term recovery

Most people fully recover from wisdom teeth surgery in three to four days. If your teeth were impacted or came in at an awkward angle, it could take a full week to recover.

The wound left behind after surgery won’t be completely healed for months, so you can still develop an infection weeks after surgery. Take care of yourself and pay attention to any signs of trouble.

You can resume normal, daily activities the day after surgery, but avoid any activity that could dislodge stitches or the blood clot over your wound. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • strenuous exercise
  • smoking
  • spitting
  • drinking from a straw

Some swelling, pain, and bleeding is normal after wisdom teeth removal. Call your dentist immediately if the pain or bleeding is excessive and unbearable.

Your symptoms should be greatly improved by the third day after surgery. All pain and bleeding should be gone within a week of surgery.

Some complications could be a sign of infection or nerve damage. Seek help if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • trouble swallowing or breathing
  • fever
  • medication not effective at dulling the pain
  • swelling that gets worse over time
  • numbness
  • blood or pus coming out of your nose
  • bleeding that doesn’t stop when you hold gauze to it and apply pressure

Home care

It’s very important that you do a good job of caring for your mouth when you get home to avoid infections and complications. Your dentist or oral surgeon will give you exact instructions on how to clean and protect your mouth after surgery. This might be the only time your dentist tells you not to brush, rinse, or floss for a whole day.

Common cleaning instructions include:

  • Rinsing with salt water to keep the wound clean. Don’t spit the water out when you rinse. Instead, tip your mouth over the sink and let the water fall out.
  • Gently dab the wound with gauze to absorb excess blood.

You should be able to go back to daily life a day or two after surgery. You’ll want to be very careful not to dislodge your blood clot or stitches for a week. Like any scab, the blood over your wisdom tooth hole protects and heals the wound. If the blot clot is disrupted, you’ll be in increased pain and at an increased risk of infection. When this happens, it’s called a dry socket. You can get a dry socket in just one or all of the wound holes.

Activities you should avoid during recovery include:

  • anything that would dislodge your stitches or blood clot
  • smoking
  • spitting
  • drinking from a straw

Pain management

The main ways you can manage pain and reduce swelling are by using ice and taking pain medication. Ask your dentist for instructions on how often to use an ice pack on your face. Don’t put ice directly to your face, as this may lead to ice burn. They’ll also recommend whether to take prescription or over-the-counter medications.

You might also be instructed to take antibiotics while you recover. This is to prevent any infections while your mouth is vulnerable to germs. Be sure to take the full course of antibiotics as instructed by your dentist.

Food to eat and foods to avoid

Staying hydrated and eating well is important for recovery, though you might not have a very good appetite directly after surgery. Ask your doctor for specific instructions on what you can eat the first few days of recovery. Think of food that will be easy to eat without much chewing, and food that won’t disrupt your blood clot or stitches.

Start with very soft food at first, such as:

  • cottage cheese
  • apple sauce
  • pudding
  • soup
  • mashed potatoes
  • smoothies

When eating, avoid:

  • extremely hot food that can burn the site of the surgery
  • nuts or seeds that could get stuck in the hole where your wisdom teeth used to be
  • drinking from a straw, or slurping too vigorously from a spoon, which can dislodge your blood clot or ruin stitches

Slowly begin eating heartier food when you feel ready.

Outlook

Wisdom teeth extraction is a very common procedure to fix or prevent problems with your last set of molars. You can eat soft food and return to regular, daily activities the day after surgery.

Recovery from wisdom teeth surgery takes about three days, but can take up to a week or more. It’s important that you follow the at-home care instructions that your dentist gives you in order to aid healing and prevent infection.