Most people undergo wisdom teeth removal in their lifetime. Many, but not all, get their wisdom teeth removed in high school or college, since wisdom teeth recovery is generally easier for teens and young adults. Wisdom teeth removal and recovery is straight-forward for most patients, and complications aren’t common when the procedure is completed by an experienced oral surgeon.
Even if complications do occur, they can be resolved without any long-lasting damage. If you are considering whether or not to pull your wisdom teeth, here’s what you can expect in the best- and worst-case scenarios, and complications you should be aware of.
Recovery After Wisdom Teeth Removal: What to Expect
Day One of Wisdom Teeth Removal
Wisdom teeth removal requires a surgery to remove the tooth and parts of the attached bone. If the tooth has erupted, meaning it has broken through the gums, it will generally be easier to remove. However, if it is impacted, meaning it is underneath the gums and it is not visible, the surgery may be more complex. Both scenarios are common, and an impacted tooth should not be reason for concern, nor will it necessarily create complications during wisdom teeth recovery.
Wisdom teeth removal requires a type of anesthesia, and there are several options. Different types of anesthesia mean different wisdom teeth recovery times and experiences. In all cases, you won’t feel any pain, though your level of awareness will vary. Any of the following anaesthesia and sedatives may be used;
- A local anesthetic: you will be awake, but the surgery area will be numb.
- A local anesthetic with nitrous oxide (AKA “laughing gas”): the area will be numb and you will conscious, with limited awareness and memory of the procedure.
- A local anesthetic with oral sedatives: the area will be numb and you will be conscious with minimal awareness and memory of the procedure.
- General anesthesia: you will be unconscious, with no memory of the procedure.
Immediately after wisdom teeth removal, it is essential to focus only on recovery. Though you will be able to return home to recover, you will not be able to go to school or work. Depending on the type of anesthesia and sedative used, you may feel drowsy, delirious or have some memory loss throughout the day. In most cases, you should not drive yourself home.
During your first day of wisdom teeth recovery, it is important for a clot to form around the surgery area, which will reduce bleeding and help prevent infection. To make healing as easy as possible, you should do all of the following, and any other instructions your oral surgeon or dentist provides:
- Prop your head up so it is above your heart
- Do not use a straw
- Do not smoke
- Consume only liquids and/or very soft foods
- Avoid any very hot or very cold foods
- Do not brush, floss, rinse or spit, unless directed otherwise
- Do not do any strenuous activities
- Rest and relax
- Drink plenty of water
- Ice your jaw and cheeks
- Take painkillers as directed
Day Two of Wisdom Teeth Recovery
The day after your wisdom teeth removal surgery, you may feel some remaining drowsiness or confusion from the anesthesia, sedatives or painkillers, but many feel clear-headed again. Remember that your body is still working hard to heal, so you should not do anything strenuous, even if you don’t feel overly drowsy. Most of the items on the previous list will still apply.
If your surgery was simple and a local anesthetic was used, you will likely experience minimal pain, discomfort, and swelling. You should still take this day off from work or school to heal. You may be able to eat some other soft foods, like noodles, ground meat, or soft bread, but avoid contact with the surgery site. You may need to gently rinse your mouth at this stage if your dentist or surgeon instructs.
If a more substantial anesthetic was used or your surgery was more difficult, you may still feel delirious and you may have more pain. Continue taking painkillers and use the list above from day one. Your pain should be subsiding somewhat and though you will have swelling and bruising, watch for any of the following. If these occur, contact your surgeon or dentist right away:
- Excessive bleeding
- Pus around the surgery site
- Blood or pus from the nose
- Extreme pain
- High fever
- Persistent tingling or numbness
Day Three of Wisdom Teeth Recovery
By day three after your wisdom teeth removal, you should be feeling mostly normal again, though you may still have some pain and discomfort which will require painkillers. Again, the complexity of your surgery will impact your wisdom teeth recovery at this stage.
Some patients are able to return to work or school by wisdom teeth recovery day three, if the activities are not too physically strenuous or mentally stressful, but it is generally recommended to take at least three days off from work or school. You will experience swelling and bruising; these are normal recovery responses. Remember that your surgery site is still healing, so be gentle. You may return to eating some normal foods, but avoid anything sticky or crunchy which could damage your surgery site. Continue to avoid straws, smoking, or harsh rinsing, as this can disturb the blood clots formed around the extraction site. Watch out for the symptoms on the list above, as these can be signs of complications like infection or a loose blood clot (AKA a “dry socket”).
Day Four to Seven of Wisdom Teeth Recovery
By day four of wisdom teeth recovery, most patients are able to return to their normal routine, barring any strenuous activities. Swelling usually peaks at day four or five, and should start to recede after this. Your pain should also noticeably subside. If the pain has not subsided or, especially, if it has gotten worse or extended to your ear, you may have a dry socket and you should contact your dentist or surgeon immediately.
You may notice after day five that your stitches feel loose, or some may even come out or dissolve. Don’t be alarmed; this means your mouth is healing normally. Resist the urge to touch or pull at the stitches with your tongue, and just let them come out or dissolve naturally.
Day Eight to Fourteen of Wisdom Teeth Recovery
In the next week after your wisdom teeth are removed, your swelling and bruising should subside substantially, and your appearance should return to normal. You should be back to work or school and you can resume normal exercise and other activities, though you should still be gentle and mindful of your healing extraction site. During this time, you will probably have a follow-up appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon to ensure your mouth has healed properly and there are no complications. During this follow-up, any remaining stitches will be removed. This is a quick, simple and painless process which doesn’t require any surgery, sedation, or anesthesia.
Though the surgery site may be tender for a longer period, some patients heal in two weeks. It may take longer for others, but it shouldn’t impact your day-to-day life. In the following months, the surgery site will continue to heal underneath your gums and tissue will fill the space where your wisdom teeth used to be, but you won’t notice this happening.
Though there is no one-size-fits-all for wisdom teeth removal and recovery, your dentist or oral surgeon can tell you what you can expect. It’s a good idea to take three to four days off from work or school, though you may not need that long. If you need stitches, expect to have them for seven to ten days. If you follow after-care instructions diligently and watch for any signs of complications, you can expect to heal quickly and easily.