Dental Surgery: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Dental surgery includes procedures such as tooth extractions, root canals, gum surgery, and dental implants. Your procedure may be done by:

  • A dentist.
  • An oral surgeon.
  • An endodontist, for root canals.
  • A periodontist, for gum surgery.

You may have some pain, bleeding, or swelling afterward, depending on the procedure. You may get medicine for pain. The pain should improve steadily after the surgery.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Allow the area to heal. Don't move quickly or lift anything heavy until you are feeling better.
  • Rest when you feel tired.
  • Your dentist may give you specific instructions on when you can do your normal activities again, such as driving and going back to work.

Diet

  • Eat soft foods, such as gelatin, pudding, or a thin soup. Gradually add solid foods to your diet as you heal. You can eat solid foods again in about a week.
  • If you had a tooth pulled, don't use a straw for the first few days. Sucking on a straw can loosen the blood clot that forms at the surgery site. If this happens, it can delay healing.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the dentist gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your dentist if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your dentist prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If your dentist told you to stop taking your regular medicines before your surgery, you should be able to take them again soon after surgery. Your dentist may give you instructions on when to restart certain medicines, such as aspirin or a blood thinner like Coumadin.

Incision care

  • While your mouth is numb, be careful not to bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek or lip.
  • If you had a tooth pulled, bite gently on a gauze pad now and then. Change the pad as it becomes soaked with blood. Call your dentist or oral surgeon if you still have bleeding 24 hours after your surgery.
  • If you had stitches in your gums, your dentist will tell you if and when you need to come back to have them removed.
  • Starting 24 hours after your tooth was pulled, gently rinse your mouth with warm salt water several times a day to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
  • Continue to brush your teeth and tongue carefully. Floss when your dentist says you can.

Ice and heat

  • If needed, put ice or a cold pack on your cheek for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

Other instructions

  • Do not smoke for at least 24 hours after your surgery. Smoking can delay healing. Smoking also decreases the blood supply and can bring germs and contaminants to the mouth.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your dentist if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your dentist now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have new or more bleeding from the site.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the incision or socket.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your dentist if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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