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What To Do After Oral Surgery: Recovery and Self-Care

You should take it easy, focus on managing your pain and take care of your incision

Dental healthcare providers perfoming oral surgery

You’re recovering after oral surgery — maybe you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed or you’ve gotten a dental implant.

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Whatever type of oral surgery you’ve had, there will be a recovery period where you’ll need to manage your pain and let your incision site heal. You’ll need to take it easy (no strenuous exercise for a few days) and you’ll have to modify what you eat for a while.

So, when it comes to oral surgery self-care, what should you be doing?

General dentist Nathan Janowicz, DMD, shares what to do after oral surgery and provides some aftercare tips to help you recover.

What to expect after oral surgery

You’ll most likely receive some oral surgery post-op instructions from your healthcare provider.

How long is recovery for oral surgery? It all depends on what kind of oral surgery you’ve had.

“Recovery can vary widely from procedure to procedure, but for routine wisdom teeth, you’ll want to take it easy and rest for the first two to three days,” says Dr. Janowicz. “The soft tissue will take one to two weeks to heal, and you may notice some residual swelling even after the two-week mark. This is normal.”

Your oral surgery post-op instructions will typically recommend what to eat, how to manage pain and swelling, and how to care for your incision.

Tips for recovering from oral surgery

What’s the fastest way to recover from oral surgery?

Dr. Janowicz says that when it comes to healing after oral surgery, the best thing you can do it follow any oral surgery aftercare instructions and give your body time to recover. You can do so by focusing on the following:

Manage your pain

You may have mild to moderate pain for a few days after surgery. What helps with pain after oral surgery?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) should be used to relieve any discomfort. Before you leave the surgery center, be sure to ask your provider about the appropriate dose for you.

“You can take these two together for effective pain control as directed by your doctor,” says Dr. Janowicz.

You may receive a prescription for a stronger pain medication. You can use this medication if acetaminophen and ibuprofen aren’t managing your pain. You should take any pain medication on a regular schedule for the first two to three days after surgery.

A low-grade fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.33 degrees Celsius or less) following surgery may occur and can be treated with acetaminophen. If the fever persists for more than two days or is greater than 102 F or 38.88 C, call your doctor.

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“It’s uncommon for antibiotics to be given post-op, but if you’re given a prescription for oral antibiotics, please start it the day after surgery,” says Dr. Janowicz.

Manage any swelling

In addition to pain, you may experience swelling in and around the surgical area. This is common, says Dr. Janowicz.

“For the first 24 hours, swelling can be managed with cold packs to the surgical area,” he continues. “Sleeping and sitting upright can also help. If your doctor feels the swelling will be severe, they may prescribe an additional medication to help manage swelling.”

You may also notice some bruising — but in most cases, there’s no need to be alarmed.

“Bruising is perfectly normal after surgery and may extend up near the eyes or down into the neck region,” Dr. Janowicz adds.

Take it easy

The best thing you can do after oral surgery? Take it easy. After surgery, you should rest at home for several days.

And there are certain things you shouldn’t do after oral surgery. Light activities may be resumed when you feel up to it. Strenuous physical activity is discouraged for seven to 10 days. This includes gym class and swimming. You may return to work when comfortable and are no longer taking prescription pain medication.

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“You should avoid strenuous activity like working out or lifting heavy objects in the immediate post-operative period,” advises Dr. Janowicz. “If your surgical procedure involved sedation or general anesthesia, you will also want to avoid driving and operating equipment the day of surgery.”

Take care of your incision

A bandage may be placed over your incision. You’ll want to keep the bandage intact until the first post-op appointment but know that it may fall off on its own. Make sure you check the surgical area for any redness, bleeding, swelling or increased pain at or around the surgical site. If you notice anything unusual, Dr. Janowicz says you should call your doctor’s office with these symptoms.

It’s worth noting that you may experience some bleeding after oral surgery.

“Bleeding is perfectly normal following a procedure,” he reassures. “You should maintain constant pressure on gauze to effectively form a clot. You may notice blood on the gauze for a few days after surgery. Keep in mind that a drop of blood mixed with saliva can look like a lot of blood, so don’t panic. Call your doctor if you feel that the bleeding is more severe than a normal amount after surgery.”

And if steri-strips (tape) have been used, they’ll fall off within a few days. You shouldn’t remove them on your own. Absorbable sutures or a liquid skin adhesive can also be used to close the incision. These don’t need to be removed. In some cases, sutures will need to be removed in five to seven days.

You may have heard of dry socket — it’s another reason why your healthcare provider stresses the importance of wound care.

“Sometimes, post-operatively, you can get a dry socket. This is when the initial blood clot is lost from the surgical site,” explains Dr. Janowicz. “Although painful, it’s not harmful and can be managed with a dressing placed at your surgeon’s office. If you suspect you have a dry socket, contact your surgeon for a post-operative visit.”

Modify what you eat

After your oral surgery, it’s recommended that you modify what you eat. You’ll want to focus on eating liquids and soft foods like smoothies, mashed potatoes and applesauce.

And you’ll need to avoid spicy, acidic, hard or crunchy foods, as these types of foods can cause irritation and disturb the incision site.

When to call your provider

It’s not uncommon to experience some bleeding, swelling and bruising in the hours and days after oral surgery. You may even have a low-grade fever. But if at any point, you become concerned or unsure about your oral surgery recovery, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.

And as you recover you want to keep an eye out for signs of an infection after oral surgery.

“Look out for new or worsening swelling, especially when the swelling appears fluid-filled,” advises Dr. Janowicz. “White or yellow discharge from the surgical site, a foul taste or odor in your mouth and a fever and swollen glands can also be a sign of concern. And if you feel worsening pain after initially feeling better, call your healthcare provider.”

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