Do you still have your third molars — also known as "wisdom teeth" because they are the last teeth to erupt between 17 and 21 years of age? If your dentist finds that your wisdom teeth are impacted (trapped in your jaw or under your gums) or if they create conditions for pain, cysts or infection in your mouth, she may recommend having them removed.
During the recovery period after having your wisdom teeth removed, you'll need to stick to a diet of mostly soft foods, with a few extra restrictions to ensure quick, complete healing.
Immediately After Your Surgery
Your oral surgeon will give you a full list of care guidelines after your surgery, but in general, here's what you can look forward to: You'll probably leave the office with your mouth still numb and a gauze pack in your mouth to help stem any remaining bleeding and form a clot that will eventually become the base of healthy new tissue.
Stay away from very hot or very cold foods until you have full feeling back in your mouth. You should also avoid any foods you need to chew as a matter of course during the healing process — but that goes double when your mouth is still numb, because you could easily end up chewing on your own tongue or cheek without realizing it.
Guidelines for Foods to Eat After Tooth Extraction
The solution is to eat soft, nutritious foods, but that doesn't have to mean bland pudding and gelatin. Some of the best foods to eat after wisdom teeth removal include smoothies, soups, broths, yogurt, applesauce, instant oatmeal and even flavored mashed potatoes. Basically, anything that you don't have to chew or suck through a straw is fair game, and if you ever wanted free license to sit around eating ice cream all day, having your wisdom teeth out is as good a reason as any.
Once you're able to chew a bit, you can move on to soft foods, like eggs (poach, fry or scramble them to keep them soft), pancakes, avocados, baked beans, baked fruit, bananas, veggies that are steamed until they're soft, and even soft protein like fish. Chunky soups, such as chowder, can feel especially satisfying once you've been on a diet of soft foods for a while, and you can sneak in a few special treats like crab cakes, doughnuts, homemade meatloaf, or even soft pasta and savory noodles.
Some people choose to lay in a stock of canned soft foods, like peas, beans and fish, before they go to have their wisdom teeth extracted. That's a great way to prepare, but don't make the heartbreaking mistake of forgetting to have a can opener handy too.
What Not to Eat After a Wisdom Tooth Extraction
If you have plenty of nutritious, soft foods to eat after your wisdom tooth removal, you're almost good to go — but there are a few important things not to eat too.
Perhaps the most important caution is to not eat (or, more accurately, drink) those soft foods through a straw. The suction could disrupt the blood clot that helps form new tissue where your teeth were removed, causing a painful, chronic condition known as dry socket. You should also resist the temptation to slurp foods as you eat — it can have the same effect as using a straw.
If you're a smoker, it might be tempting to head out for a cigarette once your surgery is done. But do your best to resist: The motion of sucking on a cigarette can disrupt the healing clot and cause dry socket, just like drinking from a straw.
During your recovery period, you should also make sure to steer clear of carbonated drinks (the bubbles can also cause dry socket), thick grains and hard or crunchy foods (the bits can get stuck where your teeth were extracted), and acidic or very spicy foods and beverages that can irritate the extraction site and cause you pain until your mouth has healed up. Chewy foods are also a no-no for at least a week.
How Long Until I Can Eat Normal Food?
Don't worry — you won't have to stick to wisdom teeth recovery food forever. But the time frame for healing can vary somewhat, from a few days to a couple of weeks. You'll probably notice yourself starting to feel better within a few days, but it's helpful to plan for plenty of healing time so your body can heal at its own pace.
If you're not sure whether you've healed up enough to use a straw or return to spicy, chewy or crunchy foods, schedule a follow-up visit with your oral surgeon or dentist.
Other Things That Help After a Wisdom Tooth Extraction
Although having the right foods to eat after wisdom teeth removal can do a lot to help your recovery, there are some other things you can do to make the healing process easier, starting with planning to rest on the day of your surgery. Oral surgeons Lyle, Tate & Stamper recommend icing your face on and off in 15-minute internals. It might look silly, but the cliche of "ice packs in a fabric tube wrapped around your head" takes on a whole new meaning — and actually feels very good — if you've had your wisdom teeth extracted.
Rinsing your mouth gently with warm salt water several times a day also helps, but make sure you consult with your surgeon about when it's safe to do so; most recommend waiting anywhere from 24 hours to a full week before doing this. While the salt will help with healing, you don't want to disturb that all-important initial clot. Your doctor might also tell you to sleep with your head elevated for a few days after surgery as well, to help reduce swelling.
Your doctor might also prescribe antibiotics or painkillers after your wisdom tooth extraction. Ask the surgeon's office to call the prescription in to the pharmacy to reduce your waiting time. If you can, authorize someone else to pick up the medicine and save you a trip.
What About Keeping My Teeth Clean?
Talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about maintaining dental hygiene during the post-extraction recovery period. Depending on the specifics of your extraction, she'll probably recommend brushing gently during the initial recovery period, using an extra-soft toothbrush and keeping well away from the extraction site so you don't disturb the clot that will form the basis of new tissue. Those warm saltwater rinses can also help keep your mouth clean.
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