Patients are often in for a surprise after oral surgery. Sometimes people go into a wisdom tooth extraction or dental implant placement thinking they will feel similar to how they feel after a dental procedure. It can be a rude awakening when post-operative pain and swelling prevent you from jumping back into your routine as fast as you would after a root canal! Make no mistake, oral surgery is surgery. Whether you are getting a sinus lift, bone grafting, dental implant, or multiple tooth extractions–the process involves cutting and suturing the oral tissues—and this is far more traumatic to the body than a filling or root canal. One of the most important things you can do to help yourself recover from oral surgery is arrange to take a few days off. Take time off work or find a caregiver who can help you if you look after small children. You will need to sleep, rest, sleep, and then rest some more!
The Day of Surgery
On the day of your surgery, follow all presurgical directions you have been given by your doctor. These will help us ensure that your anesthesia and surgical procedure are as predictable and safe as possible.
After your surgery, you will still feel the effects of the medications we have administered, and you may be in a bit of a fog. You may think, “this isn’t so bad” because the anesthetics and painkilling medications will prevent you from feeling the full extent of the post-operative sensitivity. Despite perhaps not feeling terrible pain, you should do your best to avoid using your mouth. We recommend sleeping as much as possible at first, since the first 24 hours after surgery are critical to initiating the healing process. For example, with wisdom teeth extractions, the blood needs to clot in your sockets, otherwise you may wind up with a painful condition called dry sockets. In order to avoid this, you should avoid creating any suction in the mouth. This means you should avoid sucking through a straw, spitting, swishing, (and don’t even think about smoking or vaping). This can be hard if you are constantly trying to drink, speak, and carry on as usual. Instead, grab a towel to catch your saliva, find a comfortable couch, and lie down.
Do not try to resume your usual diet or oral hygiene routine on the same day as your surgery. When you get hungry, consume only soft foods that don’t require chewing. Skip brushing your teeth, and instead rinse the mouth gently with warm salt water. This will help reduce swelling and clean any soft food residue from the mouth.
The Day After Surgery and Beyond
The first day after surgery will likely bring the full extent of your post-surgical pain. A day after your surgery, you will feel swelling, soreness, and pain at the site of your incisions. Use the painkillers prescribed or recommended by your doctor and cold packs to relieve the pain. Do not apply ice directly to the cheek or inside the mouth. Instead, use a cold pack with cloth around it, and apply it to the face in 15 minute intervals. Do not use heat, as this may intensify the pain.
You may experience some intermittent bleeding on and off in the first couple of days. This is normal, but flowing blood is not. Stanch the bleeding by biting down on sterile gauze or a moistened tea-bag for a few minutes. If you experience new bleeding that doesn’t stop, call your doctor for advice.
Again, you want to continue to avoid normal foods for up to a week. Consider your return to a normal diet as a slow, incremental process. Start with only liquids and pureed foods, and gradually add more soft foods, a little at a time. When you get back to brushing and flossing your teeth, take care not to agitate or poke at your surgical site. Swishing with water should be the main way you keep food and drink residue off your stitches. If you have concerns about oral hygiene, bring them up when you go back to your surgeon for your first post-operative appointment.
Getting Back into Your Routine
As with most surgeries, you’ll still be feeling the effects of your procedure when you start to return to your routine. You can try to go back to work or your normal home routines when you have the energy to do so, but continue to “baby” your surgical site and prepare special foods to make your life easier. If something doesn’t seem right, or if the pain does not gradually subsist, call your doctor and share your concerns. Any surgical procedure can be subject to complications, and all symptoms should be discussed with your doctor.