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Care After Minor Oral Surgery

Sometimes, after minor oral surgery, you may have pain, bleeding and swelling. This section offers some advice on dealing with these problems. Your dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon will give you advice too.

An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is a dental specialist with at least four years of extra university training in this area. If you have any questions about your treatment, or about your care after surgery, ask your dentist or oral surgeon.

If you have any of the following problems after oral surgery, call your dentist or oral surgeon right away:

  • if you are bleeding a lot and it has been four hours, or longer, since your surgery
  • if you have the feeling that you are going to throw up [nausea]
  • if you are throwing up [vomiting]
  • if you have a fever
  • if you have pain that does not get any better, and it has been one full day [or longer] since your surgery
  • if your swelling is still getting worse, and it has been two days [or longer] since your surgery
Your dentist or oral surgeon will tell you exactly what to do.
  • Easing the pain
  • Stopping the bleeding
  • Keeping the swelling down
  • Relieving a sore jaw

Easing the pain

At the dentist's office, your dentist or oral surgeon will give you "freezing" [or local anesthetic] to numb the area of your mouth that will be treated.

The length of time your mouth stays numb will depend on the type of freezing [or anesthetic], and on how much the dentist or oral surgeon gives you. When your mouth is numb, be careful not to bite your cheek, lip or tongue. The numbness should go away within a few hours.

If you are having the type of freezing that puts you to sleep [called general anesthetic], your dentist or oral surgeon will give you other directions that you must follow before and after your surgery.

Some pain is normal after the numbness wears off. You will have the most pain in the first 24 to 48 hours after your surgery. Some soreness or discomfort at the site of the surgery may last for three to five days. The amount of discomfort depends on the kind of surgery you have, how healthy you are in general and how active you are.

If you are up and about, you may feel more discomfort. It's best to rest. Your dentist or oral surgeon may prescribe painkillers to dull the pain. This type of medicine is called an analgesic. He or she may also prescribe medicine to help prevent infection. This is called an antibiotic.

What to do
  • Tell your dentist or oral surgeon about any other prescription medicines you are taking.
  • Follow the advice of your dentist or oral surgeon and your pharmacist when taking medicines.
  • Call your dentist or oral surgeon if the pain does not get any better within 24 hours.
What not to do
  • Do not take more medicine than advised.
  • Do not drink alcohol when taking painkillers.
  • Do not drive or use machines if you are taking narcotic painkillers. Your dentist, oral surgeon or pharmacist will tell you if your pain medicine is a narcotic.

Stopping the bleeding

Your dentist or oral surgeon will use a gauze pad to cut down on the amount of bleeding while the blood clots. This gauze pad should be left in place for an hour after leaving your dentist's or oral surgeon's office. Press firmly on the pad with your teeth, but do not chew on it.

You will probably bleed for the first one to two hours after surgery. The area may continue to ooze for up to 24 hours. Do not be alarmed if it looks like you are bleeding a lot. Blood and saliva mix together in your mouth and make it look like you are bleeding more than you really are. After four hours, if you cannot control the bleeding by pressing firmly on the gauze pad, call your dentist or oral surgeon.

What to do
  • Keep firm and constant pressure on the wound by putting a gauze pad over the area, and by closing your teeth firmly on the pad. Leave the pad in place for an hour, no matter how soggy it becomes.
  • If you are still bleeding after one hour, put a new gauze pad on the area.
  • Put firm and constant pressure on the area for another hour.
  • Rest and keep your head raised. Rest slows down the flow [or circulation] of blood, which helps stop the bleeding and helps you heal faster.
  • Brush and floss your teeth as usual, but avoid the wound and use only a little bit of water.
  • Call your dentist or oral surgeon if you are still bleeding a lot, and it has been four hours [or longer] since your surgery.
  • A full day after surgery, rinse your mouth gently with warm water. Your dentist or oral surgeon may suggest that you add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water each time you rinse. Rinse four or five times a day, for three to four days.
What not to do
  • Do not rinse your mouth within the first 24 hours, even if the bleeding and oozing leave a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Do not chew on the gauze pad or suck on the wound.
  • Do not strain yourself for two full days after your surgery.
  • Do not drive or use machines if you are taking narcotic painkillers.
  • Avoid hot liquids like coffee and tea. If you eat soup, let it cool first. Hot liquids increase the flow [or circulation] of blood, and your mouth can start to bleed again.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco for the first two weeks after surgery. They make it harder for the blood to clot, easier for an infection to start, and they delay healing.

Keeping the swelling down

Your face may swell in the first 24 hours after oral surgery. The swelling may last for five to seven days. Once the swelling starts to go down, your face may bruise. The bruising could last for up to 10 days after your surgery.

What to do
  • On the first day after surgery, put a cold compress on the swollen area. To make a cold compress, wrap ice cubes in a towel, or use a bag of frozen vegetables such as peas.
  • Keep the cold compress there for 10 minutes. Take it off for 10 minutes, then put it back on for another 10 minutes.

  • Repeat this procedure over and over again for the first 24 hours after surgery.
  • On the second day after surgery, put something warm on the swollen area, like a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, or a heating pad wrapped in a towel. The warmth will increase blood flow [or circulation] and decrease swelling. Do not use anything hot enough to burn your skin.
  • Call your dentist or oral surgeon if the swelling keeps getting worse 48 hours after surgery, or if the swelling does not go down within seven days after surgery.
What not to do
  • Do not apply heat to the swollen area in the first 24 hours after surgery as it will only make the swelling worse.

Relieving a sore jaw

After surgery, your jaw muscles may be sore and it may be hard to open your mouth for up to seven to 10 days. Your jaw muscles may have become stiff and sore from holding your mouth open during surgery.

What to do
  • If your jaw muscles are not too sore, massage them gently with a warm, moist facecloth.
  • Eat foods that are easy to chew such as eggs, pasta and bananas. Have drinks like milk shakes, milk and juices.
  • Call your dentist or oral surgeon if, after seven to 10 days, your jaw muscles are still tender or if your mouth is still hard to open.
What not to do
  • Do not force your mouth open.
  • Do not chew gum or eat hard or chewy foods.
  • Do not have drinks like coffee and tea.