Wisdom teeth removal is one of the most common dental surgeries. It may take a couple of weeks for a person to recover fully. Caring for the wound properly can help it heal as quickly as possible.

Wisdom teeth are large teeth that grow at the very back of the mouth. Most people’s wisdom teeth erupt through the skin between the ages of 17 and 21. Some people may not have any wisdom teeth come through at all.

Sometimes, there is not enough room in the mouth for wisdom teeth to move into the right position. They might break through the gums at an angle or come through only partially. When this occurs, they are called impacted wisdom teeth, and they can cause problems, such as pain or an infection.

Dentists may consider wisdom teeth removal a minor procedure, but it can take a person up to 2 weeks to fully recover.

The length of time it takes to remove a wisdom tooth depends on the tooth and the difficulty of the surgery.

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The healing process may follow this timeline:

First 24 hoursBlood clots will form.
2–3 daysSwelling of the mouth and cheeks should improve.
7 daysA dentist may remove any stitches that remain.
7–10 daysJaw stiffness and soreness should go away.
2 weeksAny mild bruising on the face should heal.

A closer look

Recovery from wisdom tooth surgery will occur gradually, but people should see some improvement every day.

Some people might need stitches to help close the wound. The dental surgeon will usually remove the stitches after about 1 week.

Sometimes, the surgery causes bruising, swelling, and pain, which will also require time to heal. People may also experience:

  • jaw tightness or limited mouth opening
  • dizziness or lightheadedness as a result of anesthesia

Recovery tips

The following tips may help a person feel better after wisdom tooth removal surgery:

  • If a person was under sedation or took general anesthesia, they may feel nausea or experience vomiting. Taking medication with food may help alleviate this.
  • A person should consume food as they can tolerate it.
  • Prescribed pain medications may also cause nausea in some cases. Discuss medication side effects and changes with a doctor.
  • Contact the dental office if nausea or vomiting persists.

Recovery time will differ for everyone. If blood clots become dislodged from the wound or the wound becomes infected, recovery may take longer.

Returning to daily activities

Healing time varies by individual, but many people find they can return to work 2–3 days following wisdom teeth removal. This may be longer if the job requires strenuous activity. Check with the oral surgeon for their recommendation.

Any strenuous activity should be avoided for 2 to 3 days. After this time, a person can gradually begin to resume regular activities.

Blood clots will form in the place where the tooth was removed. Blood clots are an essential part of the healing process because they:

  • help prevent too much bleeding
  • protect the wound from infection
  • allow new tissue to grow
  • protect the exposed bone

It is particularly important not to dislodge these blood clots in the first 24 hours. People should avoid:

  • rinsing the mouth
  • drinking hot drinks
  • eating food that requires chewing
  • sucking on straws, smoking, or drinking alcohol

It is a good idea to gently rinse the mouth with antiseptic mouth rinse after 24 hours.

How to reduce swelling

The localized trauma caused by wisdom teeth removal may cause some swelling.

Things that can bring swelling down include cold compresses, ice chips, or ice packs used on the area of removal or on the face. Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen can also help reduce swelling.

If swelling occurs because pieces of food are lodging in the area of removal, rinse the mouth with salt water or an oral rinse recommended by the dental office starting 24 hours after the surgery.

People should take the advice of their dentist or surgeon on how to aid recovery. They should give clear information on any medication to take and what to do to encourage healing.

Advice might include biting on a gauze pad in the extraction area for up to 60 minutes.

A dentist or surgeon may also suggest using an ice pack for the first few hours after surgery.

Holding an ice pack to the outside of the face over the area of the extraction site for 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off will help reduce discomfort and swelling.

People will not be able to drive for 48 hours if they have been in the hospital for surgery and had a general anesthetic. If possible, it is a good idea to take 1 or 2 days off work or school after surgery.

People can take pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen, to help with pain and discomfort after wisdom tooth surgery.

Sometimes, a person may develop an infection and will require antibiotics. Symptoms of an infection include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • yellow or white pus around the wound
  • a high temperature

There is a small risk of developing a condition called dry socket after wisdom tooth removal surgery.

This can happen if a blood clot does not form or gets knocked away from the wound. Dry socket causes intense, throbbing pain. A dentist will usually need to cover the wound with a dressing.

Complications are unlikely after wisdom tooth surgery with proper aftercare. If someone has severe pain, a lot of bleeding, a fever, or any other unexpected symptoms, they may wish to see a doctor or dentist.

It is essential to keep the wound clean while it is healing. Because people still need to eat and drink, food can easily get stuck in the area where the tooth was removed. This can make keeping the wound area clean a bit challenging.

Try the following to help keep the wound clean:

  • using an antiseptic mouth rinse to prevent infection
  • rinsing with warm water and salt to reduce swelling and soothe sore gums, only after 24 hours
  • raising the head when sleeping to feel more comfortable

As well as pain, some people will feel tired after having their wisdom teeth out and might choose to avoid exercise for a few days after the surgery.

Eating soft or liquid foods can help prevent damage to wounds. Some examples include:

  • gelatin
  • soft noodles
  • pudding
  • mashed banana
  • thin soup

For the first few days after surgery, avoid foods that need chewing, such as sticky candy or chewing gum. These may get stuck and can cause pain and damage to the healing wounds. Also avoid hard, crunchy food — such as chips, pretzels, nuts, and seeds — as well as hot or spicy foods.

If one or two wisdom teeth have been removed from the same side of the mouth, it may be possible to chew on the opposite side of the mouth after 24 hours.

As wisdom teeth come through in adulthood, the other teeth in the mouth have already settled into place. The mouth often does not have enough room for the arrival of four large teeth.

If a tooth only comes partway through the gum, food may easily become trapped between the tooth and gum. A person may also have more difficulty keeping these teeth clean, which can lead to infection or tooth decay.

However, wisdom teeth can cause problems even if they come through the gum entirely. If they grow at an angle, they might rub against the inside of the mouth or the gums. They may cause pain by pushing against other teeth.

If a person visits the dentist regularly as an adolescent and in early adulthood, the dentist can keep an eye on how the wisdom teeth are developing and should be able to identify whether there will be any problems.

With proper aftercare, recovery from wisdom tooth removal surgery usually takes around 2 weeks. However, a person can often resume their daily activities after just a few days.

People may require wisdom tooth removal surgery if there is not enough room for the teeth in their mouth. Teeth can become impacted and this can promote infection. Wisdom teeth that have grown at an angle may cause a person to experience pain.