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How to Reduce Swelling After Wisdom Teeth Removal

Swelling Reduction After Tooth Extraction Infographics

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Wisdom Tooth RemovalMost people get their third and final set of molars, also known as wisdom teeth, in their teens or early twenties. These teeth can be great when they’re healthy and properly aligned, but they’re often misaligned or they only partially break through the gums. And that’s when your dentist or oral surgeon steps in to remove them.

The speed of your recovery after surgery depends on how difficult it was to extract the teeth. Was it a simple extraction or was the tooth impacted into the jawbone? Either way, because of the surgical trauma, there will be post-operative tissue swelling. How severe it will be again depends on the ease of the extraction.

Reducing the swelling: the first 24 hours you need cold

The aim here is to minimize the total amount of swelling. To do this, you need to apply cold packs to the outside of your face where the extraction was. You can start doing this pretty much as soon as the surgery is done.

  1. Fill a surgical glove with ice, or use a cold pack bought from your pharmacy. A frozen bag of peas works really well too. Whatever the source of the cold, wrap it in a dishtowel.
  2. Hold it firmly against the outside of your face for 15 minutes. Then leave it off for 15 minutes, and so on. Repeat for the first 18 to 24 hours after the surgery.
  3. How it works: the cold causes the blood vessels in the area to constrict, thereby reducing the total volume of fluids that can be transported around the tissue and therefore reducing the amount of swelling.

NB: Remember you’ll still be feeling numb from the anesthetic, so don’t fall asleep with the ice pack pressed to your cheek.


Reducing the swelling: after 48-72 hours you need heat

You’re unlikely to completely prevent swelling with the cold compress described above, but you can help bring it down more quickly – this time using warm compresses. Swelling is generally considered to reach its peak 48-72 hours after surgery and that’s when you start the process, not before. Check with your dentist what they recommend.

  1. Buy a heat pack from the pharmacy, or use a hot water bottle or wet towel. But take care: you want to warm the swollen area, not burn it. Minimize irritation to your skin by wrapping your heat source in a moistened dishtowel.
  2. Hold the heat compress against the swelling. Leave it in place for 20 minutes; leave it off for the next 20. Repeat.
  3. How it works: the heat causes the blood vessels to dilate, which enables them to carry away the fluids that caused the swelling more efficiently.

NB: If your swelling hasn’t subsided by day four, report this to your dentist. While complications are rare, they are possible, so call your dentist right away if you notice any pus discharge or severe pain, or you develop a fever.

Top tip

Keep your head elevated – even when sleeping – to further help reduce swelling.

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