Words of Wisdom: Wisdom Tooth Recovery

As someone who is currently finishing the first week of recovery after having teeth pulled out of their head, I’m jealous of everyone who can eat real food. But more importantly, I feel like it is critical to warn future recoverers about the pain of wisdom teeth removal. Don’t let the word ‘pain’ scare you off. The process itself is painless (as long as the oral surgeon isn’t stingy with local anesthetic and the numbing) but the aftermath is a trip. It’s up to you to manage the pain. You’ve been prescribed medication, a stronger prescription than over-the-counter ibuprofen unless you refused, but if you’re not careful, survival can still feel pretty slim. Let’s talk about how to avoid unnecessary pain.

First, take medicine before the numbing goes away. As I was driving home from the surgery, I began to feel my face, which was great because then I could stop looking like an idiot biting my lip. Then, the pain kicked in. When I say kicked in, I mean ran down the field, tried to make a goal and burned through the net. Unless you’re ready for a cycle of crying so hard it hurts but hurting so bad you can’t help but cry, take those meds before the numbing wears off. When you take them, make sure to take the dose prescribed. Some people don’t want to use prescription opioids. This is understandable, but for those of us who suffered through extracting impacted teeth, meaning bone was drilled into and potentially extracted along with the tooth, ibuprofen might not be able to take away the pain. The surgeon will have prescribed the proper prescription for your body and damage from the procedure, not enough to harm you when used as directed.

This suggestion will get me a couple laughs and not because it’s funny, but open your jaw. Yeah, I know, that would be a hard no from me a couple days ago too. The thing is, stretching your jaw gently a couple times a day helps relieve the stiffness so you can fit a spoon in your mouth and eventually chew with the front teeth. The more I stretched it, the easier I could eat (my mashed potatoes, yogurt and ice cream, yum) and the easier it became to stretch more and speak. It’s important to exercise the muscles to avoid a locked jaw. There are limits, and that’s why it’s best not to stretch more than a couple times a day or chew too early into recovery. You don’t want to risk hurting either the open sockets or sutures but you certainly don’t want a locked jaw. 

So, what should you be eating early on? Unfortunately, more than milkshakes, ice cream and custard. By now, I should be an investor in Andy’s considering how much money I’ve spent there, but sweet treats aren’t as satisfying as I anticipated for a meal. Especially on top of a sore throat and teeth you can’t brush on the first day, sugar is a heavy coat and doesn’t offer much nutrition. Plan to get savory soups without any chewy meat or meat substitutes for us vegetarians. Broths, for this reason, are better than soup in the first few days. The pamphlet you go home with should have a few suggestions, but there are lists online of foods for wisdom teeth recovery. Some of the items listed may be questionable depending on what day you’re on post-op, so don’t be afraid to ask which foods would be too advanced at the time. So far, potatoes have been my savior.

Lastly, don’t try to be superhuman. Everyone is busy with things from work, to school, internships and pets. Still, the more movement you make, the more blood will fill your cheeks, causing swelling, pressure and the more jarring you’ll do to your jaw. Let someone else take the dogs for a walk. Tell your professors there was trauma done to your body and you won’t make it to class. If you’re on painkillers that make you drowsy, you better believe your body needs rest and not to be hauled to school. Speaking of those painkillers, don’t think you can make an exception to “take this every [X] hours” just because one of those intervals falls during your usual sleeping time. Set an alarm to wake you, otherwise what will wake you is a roaring ache in your jaw because the medicine has worn off.

As I stumble through recovery, making mistakes and sitting up at 4:00 a.m.writing this article because my alarm didn’t go off for my medication, I’m praying I can keep someone from tripping over the same rocks. I don’t know how others have done it, not being able to eat proper food for days, dealing with pain around the corner if you calculate the length of your outing wrong and didn’t bring medication, wearing a mouth mask to the movie theater and having to talk to management because you can’t take it off (not only does it hide the chipmunk cheeks but I found the gentle pressure helps keep your jaw from shaking when you walk or drive over potholes). Yet, I’m surviving and I hope these tips help you survive too!