The way you care for your mouth after an extraction can have a big impact on how quickly it heals. Taking adequate care of the wound can decrease healing time and the risk for post-operative complications.

Don't be concerned if you're unsure where to begin. Your oral surgeon will give you home care instructions and we've provided some helpful aftercare tips here.

Control bleeding and swelling

Surgical tooth extraction

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

Forming a blood clot is the first goal of the recovery process. The first couple of days after a tooth removal will be when the majority of the healing and closing of the wound takes place. You can expect to see minimal bleeding from the gums. To absorb the blood from the wound, a gauze pad is recommended. Tea bags or other absorbent pads could be used as an alternative.

To reduce swelling, use cold packs to both lower the inflammation and to numb the area.

Avoid smoking and alcohol

It might be common knowledge, but it must be stated that smoking after an extraction is not allowed for at least two weeks. Smoking produces toxic compounds that can interact with an open wound, causing pain and excessive bleeding. In addition, the inhalation force you use while smoking creates undue pressure on the area, which can dislodge the clot.

Alcohol also increases the risk of a dry socket and should be avoided until after the first week.

Eat soft foods and drink carefully

An oral surgeon will advise a healthy, balanced diet to help the body heal, but it is important to note the consistency of food for the first week. Due to the tenderness, it is highly recommended to avoid solid foods, as well as foods with small particles. For the first week, softer foods will be best for keeping the area clean.

Foods you might try include:

  • yogurt,

  • smoothies,

  • protein shakes,

  • applesauce,

  • mashed potatoes,

  • scrambled eggs,

  • oatmeal,

  • cottage cheese,

  • broth-based soups.

Try to eat a mixture of foods so that you get adequate nutrition. Eat foods that have plenty of protein and fiber. Of course, ice cream and milkshakes are perfectly acceptable foods as long as they're eaten in moderation.

Be sure to drink plenty of liquids and stay hydrated to increase cleanliness and encourage the recovery process. Actions such as sucking through a straw or eating hard and crunchy foods will strain the gums and need to be eliminated.

Minimize pain

Tablet on the tongue

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

It is not unusual for the dentist to prescribe some medication to manage the pain levels for the first couple of days. Common pain prescriptions include Tylenol #3, Norco, Hydrocodone, Lortab, and Percocet. After a couple of days, the discomfort will subside to a point that over-the-counter medicine will be sufficient. Avoiding contact to the site will reduce the chances of severe pain and dislodging any healing completed thus far.

Ice packs and cold compression to the area are some home remedies for reducing pain and swelling.

Maintain proper oral hygiene

Maintaining proper oral hygiene goes a long way in regards to the healing process. In the first few days following surgery, the gums are at their greatest vulnerability. That's why performing extra dental care is important - floss to prevent small particles from reaching the gums, drink plenty of water, and replace the gauze as needed.

Cleaning of the wound with warm water or salt water is also recommended. Salt water will help with the healing process, but you should not begin rinsing until the second day of recovery. Use eight ounces of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and swish carefully. This may be every few hours to a few times a day. Do not use over-the-counter mouthwashes as most of them contain alcohol.

Brush and floss like normal, but avoid the area of extraction for the first couple of days. You should still brush all of your remaining teeth, just do so carefully.

Take time to rest

The body needs rest to recuperate and heal. High physical activities may cause strain on the gums, so you should minimize excessive activity for at least the first 48 hours. When at rest, elevate your head at night to promote the flow of blood to the tooth extraction site.

Book a control appointment

Periodic routine dental exam

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

In some cases, it may be necessary to have a follow-up appointment. However, that is not often the case. If there is still severe bleeding from the site after one day, be sure to contact your dental office. You should also call if you are experiencing pain outside of slight discomfort as you may have a dry socket.

More concerning symptoms include fever, chills, vomiting, pain into your ear, difficulty breathing, chest pain and drainage from the wound. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your dental office right away. Even if you have these symptoms after hours, there should be an emergency contact that your office uses for situations such as these.

If you didn't talk about it before the extraction, you can also use a follow-up appointment to discuss what treatment options you have to replace the missing tooth. As the area heals, you can take the time to consider all options and decide which one is best for you.

FAQ

Why is tooth removal aftercare important?

Proper aftercare following tooth removal will promote blood clotting and reduce the bleeding, help you avoid unnecessary pain, and decrease the recovery time.

Should I brush and floss the site of the extracted tooth?

While keeping the extracted tooth clean is great, brushing and flossing at the site in the initial 24-hour period should be avoided. Brushing will likely be tender and will increase the chances of dislodging the blood clot that formed, which would disrupt the healing. Still, you should carefully brush your remaining teeth to prevent decay.

References

  1. Tooth extraction - ADA
  2. The effect of cigarette smoking on the healing of extraction sockets: an immunohistochemical study - NIH
  3. Extractions - Mouth Healthy
  4. Common risk factors of dry socket (alveolitis osteitis) following dental extraction: A brief narrative review - NIH