Most adults have 32 teeth, four of which are typically wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth are the furthest back in your mouth (farthest away from your top front and bottom teeth) and usually come in during your teens and early twenties.
Some people have their wisdom teeth come in and don’t have any issues.
For many people, though, your mouth is too crowded for wisdom teeth and could cause shifting of your teeth if they aren’t removed.
Impacted wisdom teeth that are causing problems like facial swelling, cysts, and infections should be removed (1).
If you have impacted wisdom teeth (they haven’t erupted from your gums and you can’t see them) and they aren’t causing you any problems, then you don’t necessarily need to remove them.
If you have impacted or only partially erupted wisdom teeth, food and bacteria can get trapped around the edges and might lead to:
- Tooth decay (dental caries)
- Gum disease (periodontal disease or gingivitis)
- Cellulitis (a bacterial infection in your head or neck area)
- An abscess (a painful collection of pus due to a bacterial infection in or around your wisdom tooth)
About wisdom teeth removal surgery
Not everyone even gets wisdom teeth, so you might not have to deal with them. If you do have wisdom teeth, your regular dentist will be able to determine if you’re a candidate for wisdom tooth removal surgery or not.
If your wisdom teeth are fully exposed, your dentist might be able to perform wisdom teeth removal surgery. But if they are compacted, or if your dentist doesn’t perform wisdom teeth removal, an oral surgeon is the most common health professional to perform the surgery. Oral surgeons are considered the best suited for removing wisdom teeth.
During wisdom teeth removal surgery, you’ll receive anesthesia to numb the pain. If the removal is simple, you’ll likely receive local anesthesia, which is when the area around the teeth to be removed is numbed.
Local anesthetics are injected into the gum surrounding the teeth to be removed and numb the area. You’ll likely have a numb mouth and tongue for several hours after receiving a local anesthetic.
If your surgery is more complex, such as removing impacted wisdom teeth, you’ll likely receive anesthesia through an IV to lessen your awareness of the procedure.
This type of anesthesia is called sedation anesthesia, which is administered through an IV in your arm. You aren’t asleep with sedation anesthesia, but you’re unlikely to remember your surgery. Sedation anesthesia is considered safer than general anesthesia, which comes with more risks.
General anesthesia is when you’re put into a sleep-like state with sedative drugs. This type of anesthesia is rarely used for wisdom teeth removal surgery and comes with some risks.
How long after wisdom teeth removal can I eat?
Once you return home after your wisdom teeth removal surgery and can remove the gauze from your mouth (used to control the bleeding), you can eat or drink.
You’ll want to focus on very soft or liquid foods/drinks that don’t require much chewing for at least 24-48 hours since you’ll likely feel sore and tender. It’s also common to have tight jaw muscles, making it difficult to open your mouth all the way.
You can gradually return to a more normal diet depending on how you feel. If you’re struggling with pain and tenderness, sticking with a softer diet for longer will aid in your healing process.
Transitioning back to a normal diet too soon can increase the risk of infection (from food particles getting caught in the site of the pulled tooth) and stress your jaw muscles which will likely be tight from the surgery.
What to eat after wisdom teeth removal
Soft foods like applesauce, mashed potatoes, yogurt, smoothies, well-cooked oatmeal, gelatin, and pudding are great staples to have on hand to eat after wisdom teeth removal. These foods don’t require chewing and won’t get caught in the sites of your extracted teeth.
Protein-rich soft foods are a great choice since protein will help aid in healing. Yogurt, cottage cheese, smoothies made with yogurt, and scrambled eggs are good soft protein choices since meat and other higher-protein foods will be too challenging to chew after surgery.
Canned, soft fruits and vegetables are another good option while recovering, as are avocados, which provide healthy fats.
Besides clear liquids like juice and sports drinks, protein shakes and soups are better sources of calories and protein to help you meet your energy needs during recovery. Avoid soups with larger pieces of meat, which might be too difficult to chew.
Bone broth is an especially good choice because it’s liquid but high in protein, thanks to the collagen from the animal bones it’s made from.
Cold foods and drinks can help soothe inflammation, which can aid in relieving pain. Smoothies made with frozen fruit, ice cream, or popsicles are all soothing, cold foods that can help ease some of the pain from wisdom tooth removal.
Foods to avoid after wisdom teeth removal
Crunchy or crumbly foods
Crunchy foods with sharp edges or pieces that could get lodged in your tender gums aren’t recommended after wisdom tooth removal.
You should avoid chips, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, and even crumbly foods like cookies while you heal.
Nuts and seeds are very nutritious, but they take effort to chew and could get stuck in the sites of your extracted teeth.
Acidic & spicy foods
Acidic and spicy foods might irritate the site of your extracted teeth, so be cautious with these types of foods if you’re early in your recovery.
Tomato-based foods, citrus fruits and juices like orange juice, and any food with hot peppers or spices are examples.
You’ll need to avoid suction in your mouth while you heal. When you eat sticky foods, you might be tempted to suck some of the sticky parts out of your teeth and mouth, which could lead to the loss of important blood clots that allow you to heal. This painful condition is called a dry socket, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Avoid sticky foods like candy, nut butter, and anything else that sticks to your teeth or the roof of your mouth when you eat them.
It’s important to allow your body to rest after undergoing surgery. Your body has undergone trauma and needs to rebuild tissue and combat inflammation.
Make sure to take it easy and rest for several days after your surgery. Avoid strenuous activities and exercises and plan to spend more time on the couch or in bed during the first few days after wisdom tooth removal.
Don’t use straws/suction
If you increase the pressure in your mouth through sucking, such as drinking from a straw, you could dislodge an important blood clot forming to protect the site of your pulled tooth.
A dry socket is very painful and can slow the healing process. Avoid drinking out of straws for at least two weeks after surgery. Instead, drink from glasses or open-mouthed bottles.
Keep your mouth clean
Gently rinsing your mouth with a warm salt water rinse and brushing your teeth (being careful around the site of the extracted teeth) can help keep potentially harmful bacteria at bay.
Infections delay healing, so focus on good oral hygiene while recovering. Also, avoid commercial mouthwashes as you heal, which can irritate your sensitive and swollen gum tissue.
Icing your face and jaw near the sites of your extracted teeth can help ease some pain and inflammation. Swelling tends to peak a couple of days after your surgery, so try to stay ahead by using ice immediately and consistently.
Pain meds as needed
Your dentist will likely recommend a pain relief regimen after your surgery. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help, and you might also be prescribed pain medication, depending on your situation.
Be sure to “stay ahead of the pain” by taking the medication as often as recommended, not just when you’re feeling better.
Skipping doses of pain medication, or going too long between doses, can increase pain and make your recovery even more difficult, especially during the first few days.
Wisdom teeth removal surgery is done if you have wisdom teeth that will crowd your other teeth or otherwise cause issues. It’s possible to have wisdom teeth without needing them removed.
Wisdom tooth surgery is common and is most often performed by oral surgeons, but a general dentist can also do it in some cases.
You’ll need to eat a modified, soft diet for at least several days after wisdom teeth removal surgery, if not longer. How soon you can return to a more normal diet depends on your recovery process.
Focus on soft foods that don’t require chewing, like yogurt, smoothies, and soup. Avoid crunchy, sticky, and crumbly foods while recovering from wisdom tooth surgery. You should also avoid drinking from a straw for at least two weeks to prevent dry sockets.