According to the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, nine out of ten people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth, and sometimes even nonimpacted wisdom teeth are removed to reduce potential complications. One of the first hurdles you'll face after surgery to remove one or more of your wisdom teeth is food. As it turns out, avoiding certain foods — and a few particular behaviors — can do a lot to improve your outcome after a wisdom tooth extraction.
What to Avoid in the First Few Hours
Exactly what sort of anesthetic your oral surgeon uses will vary; you might receive local anesthetic, IV sedation or even general anesthetic. Regardless of the exact mechanism, your mouth will be numb for a while.
That means you should avoid hot foods until the feeling returns — or else you might accidentally burn yourself. You should also avoid chewy foods until sensation returns. If you eat them while your mouth is numb, you might end up chewing on your own lips, cheeks or tongue by mistake. Even after feeling returns, stick to soft foods immediately following your surgery.
One thing you should do is drink lots of water after your surgery to stay hydrated and help your body heal.
The Week Following Your Surgery
Even once feeling has returned to your mouth, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons recommends avoiding acidic foods such as oranges and tomatoes; carbonated beverages; hard seeds, nuts and popcorn; hard-to-chew candies like taffy; spicy foods; and hot drinks.
In their advice to patients for after surgical care, Brooks Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery recommends avoiding similar foods for the first week following your surgery, along with anything else that's hard to chew, such as steak, deli meats, pretzels and crusty breads. They also recommend avoiding alcoholic drinks, and MayoClinic.org recommends avoiding caffeinated beverages too.
Recommendations for just how long you should stick to purely soft foods vary from doctor to doctor, but usually within 24 hours to a week after surgery, they'll clear you to add in semi-soft foods like pancakes, eggs and soft pasta.
Tip: If you find it difficult to swallow, the Oral Surgery Center recommends splitting your meals into smaller servings and eating five or six times a day.
The Most Important Behaviors to Avoid
The goal is to avoid any sucking motions that might disturb the clot your body immediately forms over the extraction site; this clot forms the basis of new tissue that will fill the tooth socket in, and even spitting or too-vigorous rinsing may affect it. If the clot shifts or is dislodged you may end up with the painful condition known as dry socket — literally an empty socket where your tooth once was.
Tip: No matter what you're eating, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons recommends that, to reduce inflammation, you should limit chewing near the extraction site until it's healed.
The Best Wisdom Teeth Food Choices
So what can you eat after your wisdom teeth removal? Start with soft, pureed foods. An evidence-based review published in Open Dentistry Journal confirms that vitamin- and mineral-rich foods can improve your post-surgical outcome, so the more nutritious, the better. Making your own smoothies or purees with fruits and vegetables is a great way to get nutritious soft foods down — just remember not to use a straw.
Other soft foods you can stock up on before your surgery include oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce, pudding, ice cream, very soft pasta, Jell-O, thin soups or broths, and mashed potatoes. Protein helps the healing process along, so don't forget soft, protein-rich foods like scrambled eggs, soft fish and cottage cheese. As a general rule, anything you can cut with a fork is fair game once you can tolerate semi-solid foods.
- American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: Wisdom Teeth Management
- Open Dentistry Journal: Dietary Strategies to Optimize Wound Healing after Periodontal and Dental Implant Surgery
- MayoClinic.org: Dry Socket
- The Oral Surgery Center: After Wisdom Tooth Removal
- American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: What to Eat After Wisdom Teeth Removal
- Brooks Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery: Essentials to Good Nutrition After Oral Surgery