If you’re one of the roughly 5 million Americans having their wisdom teeth removed this year, you need to know how to ensure a speedy, uncomplicated recovery. 

Even though it’s considered minor surgery and it’s relatively safe, it is still surgery and you may be surprised at how much it can knock you off your game for several days. 

  • Generally speaking, after surgery, you may feel drowsy from the effects of sedation for the rest of the first day. 
  • After three or four days, the pain and swelling should be reduced to where you can resume most normal activities. 
  • By two weeks, jaw stiffness and bruising should disappear, and your diet, sleep, etc. should be back to normal. 
  • The extraction wound may take up to six months to fully heal.  

By following our tips below and your dentist’s instructions, you should get through your wisdom tooth extraction with no issues. 

Young female patient undergoing tooth extraction


Recovery in the 24 Hours Post-Surgery

Whether you’re very groggy or relatively alert, you should expect some discomfort until at least the following day after a wisdom tooth extraction.  


Immediately After Wisdom Teeth Removal

Wisdom tooth removal is an outpatient procedure, which means you can go home afterward. 

However, how you get home and how alert you are will depend on the sedation method you used. 

If your wisdom teeth were impacted (or buried in the jawbone and difficult to remove), the dentist may use general anesthesia, in which case you may wake up in a recovery room quite groggy and with no memory of your procedure. You would not be able to drive yourself home, or drive at all for 48 hours.

However, it’s more common for local anesthetic or light sedation such as nitrous oxide or oral sedation to be used.

With just local anesthetic, you could be able to drive yourself home afterward, but for anything more you would need to find a ride home. Nitrous oxide wears off quickly, but numbness in your mouth from local anesthetic may linger for several hours. 


What You Can Expect in the First 24 Hours

As the effects of sedation wear off, you’ll likely become aware of pain and swelling in your mouth and cheeks. There will likely be blood in your mouth, as well, which can be alarming but is totally normal. 


Pain Management in the First 24 Hours

It’s almost certain that you will want to begin taking pain medication after your surgery. This may be over-the-counter medication such as Motrin (ibuprofen), or prescription medication such as Vicodin. Follow your dentist’s instructions on how to proceed regarding medication; you may also be prescribed antibiotics, as well, which you should take as directed.


Care Tips in the First 24 hours

During this time, recovery is about pain management and letting your body recover from the stress of surgery:

  • Place gauze pads inside your mouth to soak up any blood and hold them there with your bite. If your dentist gave you some initially after surgery, swap them out for fresh ones when you get home and continue replacing them each hour until no longer needed.
  • Hold an ice pack or cold wet cloth against your face for 10-15 minutes at a time to keep swelling down.
  • Don’t brush or floss.

Woman holding ice pack on face for toothache


Eating and Drinking in the First 24 hours

Liquids and soft foods are going to comprise your meals at first–applesauce, avocado, mashed potatoes, etc.

However, it’s important that you don’t use a straw for at least a week, as sucking increases the likelihood of developing dry socket, a painful condition involving exposed bone and nerves due to the blood clot at the extraction site being dislodged or failing to develop.

Also avoid alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and smoking, as these slow healing.



Ideally, you’ve already cleared your work/school/social schedule for at least one day, if not two or three, after surgery.

You will need to rest and it’s likely that you will not have the energy and/or will be distracted by discomfort and not up for much activity anyway.


Recovery in the Days Following Wisdom Teeth Removal

Everyone heals at their own speed, but you should see gradual improvement each day.


How Long Does it Take to Recover from Wisdom Teeth Removal?

Just as the complexity of your surgery determines your sedation level and thus your grogginess afterward, it also affects your recovery during this period.

If your surgery was simple, with minimal manipulation of the gums and bones, and you have a healthy immune system, you may not have even needed sutures (stitches) and may heal up quickly.

If your wisdom teeth were impacted or otherwise difficult to remove, it may take longer to feel 100%.

Generally, the pain and swelling should last three to four days, while jaw stiffness and bruising can take up to two weeks to resolve.

The wounds inside your mouth can take up to six months to heal, or longer if the blood clot becomes dislodged or the wound gets infected.


What You Can Expect in the Days Following Surgery

It’s normal for pain and swelling and even bleeding to continue for several days. However, if any of these is excessive and/or it lasts beyond a week, you should call the dentist.

Cheek bruising, a sore jaw, and a bad taste in your mouth are other symptoms that may linger during this time and are not cause for serious concern.


Signs of Complications

Although infections after surgery are rare, if you experience any of the following at this stage, it could be a sign of infection or nerve damage, and you should talk to your dentist as soon as possible:

  • Fever over 100 degrees–a low-grade fever is relatively common but should not exceed this temperature or occur more than three days after the procedure
  • Numbness–loss of feeling in mouth, lips, chin, or tongue is common shortly after surgery but should not be present days after
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swelling worsening, not improving
  • Continuous bleeding, even with applied pressure
  • Medication not dulling the pain


Care Tips in the Days Following Surgery

You may receive additional instructions from the dentist after surgery, but it’s important to follow these guidelines after the initial recovery stage has passed:

  • Drink lots of water. Drinking water helps you keep up saliva production, which is important during post-oral surgery recovery.
  • Gently rinse with warm salt water after each meal. Move your head instead of swishing the water around and don’t spit, just let it run out naturally.
  • Start brushing and flossing again. But don’t brush against your blood clots.
  • Gently open and close your mouth to exercise your jaw.


Resuming Activities in the Days Following Surgery

You can resume most normal activities now, so long as they don’t risk pulling out stitches or tearing blood clots. So no spitting, smoking, or strenuous exercise. You should avoid strenuous activity for at least a week, and smoking for as long as you can.


Sleeping in the Days Following Surgery

Sleeping can be uncomfortable for a few days after your surgery.

To help, use an extra pillow or wedge pillow for extra head support–keeping your head above your feet helps keep swelling down and reduces blood volume around your wounds so they won’t throb.

Try to avoid laying on the same side of your face you’ve had teeth extracted. If you’ve had all four wisdom teeth removed, you’ll need to try to lie on your back.


Pain Management in the Days Following Surgery

If the dentist has prescribed painkillers, the sooner you can stop using them, the better. Most patients can cease use within three days of their surgery with no issues, but you may feel the need to switch to over-the-counter pain relievers for a few days after that.

If you’re on antibiotics, take the full course of them, even if you’re feeling good.


Eating and Drinking in the Days Following Surgery

As you begin to transition back to normal life, continue with soft foods that don’t require much chewing and gradually incorporate foods that are harder to chew.

Until your stitches fall out or have been removed, stay away from very hot foods and drinks, hard, crunchy, and chewy foods, and foods that might get trapped in your wounds.

Also continue to hold off on using straws or slurping from a spoon until after the first week has passed.

Foods to avoid after wisdom tooth extraction - hot drinks, nuts, steak, drinking through straws


Follow Up Dental Appointments

Typically, you will return to see the dentist one week after surgery. This is the dentist’s opportunity to remove your stitches, if you had them, as well as check how you’re recovering and make sure there’s no infection or dry socket.

He will also give you information on your continued recovery and answer any questions you have going forward.


Wisdom Teeth Removal at Bunker Hill Dentistry

At Bunker Hill Dentistry in Houston, we provide effective wisdom tooth removal with tailored pain management in a serene setting and under the guidance of dental specialists. We will provide you with thorough and clear instructions for recovery.


Learn more about wisdom tooth extractions at Bunker Hill Dentistry.