Having a wisdom tooth removed is a special kind of pain that most of us can relate to and none of us envy. From the very first moments of discomfort in the back of your mouth, through to the early days after having them pulled out, the whole process will leave you dreaming of better days.
Each person’s aftercare experience will be slightly different; so it may be a breeze, or it could be somewhat uncomfortable. Either way, after you have taken that fateful trip to the dentist, and left a little lighter in the head, these are seven things you MUST do if you want to have a good night’s sleep.
1. Sleep with Your Head Elevated
As with many injuries that cause swelling and inflammation, it is best to keep the extraction site elevated for at least 36 hours. This includes while you’re sleeping. At this point, you want to use gravity as an aid to your recovery. When you lay flat, the blood vessels tend to cause the blood to pool, rather than continuing to flow.
The best way to ensure that your head and shoulders remain elevated is to purchase a wedge pillow. However, because wisdom teeth removal is typically a last-minute or urgent process, it’s understandable that you may not have time to buy and test out new pillows. In this case, use as many cushions as you can that you already have, and situate them under you at roughly a 45-degree angle.
2. Sleep on Your Back
Now that you have your surplus of pillows around you, which position is recommended for the first few nights? If you’re used to sleeping primarily on your stomach or side, you will have to practice a new sleeping position – on your back. Try to stick to this position for 3-7 nights.
Not only will back sleeping be slightly more comfortable if you are using a wedge pillow, but it will help prevent unnecessary pressure on the affected area from the weight of your head on your cheeks. Sleeping on the side of the surgery will also direct more blood to the location, thanks to gravity, which you want to avoid.
Be sure to remove any gauze before heading to bed – to avoid the possibility of choking on it.
3. Use A Temporary Pillowcase or A Pillow Protector
For the first few nights, many people tend to drool in their sleep. If you are a person who drools on a regular night, then this one is especially for you! While the open wound is healing, it’s easy for the blood that clots to reopen (as you will see later), causing the blood to mix with your saliva. Don’t be alarmed if you wake up with red stains on your pillows. To prevent having to clean the stains later, look into a cheap pillowcase that you won’t mind tossing once your mouth has healed.
Another option is a pillow protector which will give you just a little more of a barrier between your face and your pillow so that the blood doesn’t damage the pillow as well. These are washable, so the best part is that you can keep it, wash it, and reuse it for improved hygiene!
4. Take Painkillers
Your dentist will undoubtedly prescribe a prescription painkiller for the days following your surgery. Be sure to be aware of the dosage and when you should be taking it. Ask your dentist if there are any cautions that you should be mindful of with the medication.
You should aim to begin taking your prescription before the local anesthetic wears off. It’s better to have consistent pain management, rather than letting the medication completely wear off in the middle of the night. If that happens, you will then be forced to drag yourself out of bed to take more and wait for it to kick in all over again. This can lead to a frustrating loss of sleep.
5. Use A Tea Bag
About 30 minutes after surgery, you should be able to remove the gauze without issue. However, if bleeding continues, a tea bag may be the answer! Use a tea bag, such as Lipton, that has been moistened with warm water and apply directly to the extraction site. Keep it in place by biting down firmly for up to 30 minutes. If you have gauze left over, you can also wrap the bag in gauze, but this isn’t required.
The reason why tea bags are recommended in addition to the gauze is that they contain tannic acid, which helps to constrict the blood vessels and forms a clot to prevent future bleeding. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped by bedtime, use the tea bag an hour before you head to bed, then avoid any actions that will encourage the bleeding to start again (more on that below).
6. Apply A Cold Compress or Ice Pack
The irritation from the surgery will leave you feeling (and maybe looking) a bit like a chipmunk preparing for hibernation. To help with the inflammation, use an ice pack on the cheek outside of the affected area. The cold from the ice will also numb your jaw and gums, providing some pain relief.
As always when using an ice pack, be sure to leave it on for no longer than 20 minutes on, followed by 20 minutes off, and never apply ice directly to your skin to avoid the possibility of ice burns.
7. Set Your Room Up for Sleep
There is something to be said about making sure that your bedroom is a place of rest and relaxation. Whether you’re suffering from tooth pain, or it’s a regular Wednesday night – you can take little steps that will help you sleep better. Some of the ways you may find will help you get to sleep include:
- Dim the lights – Depending on your light sensitivity, reducing the amount of light in the room can be of great help. Close the curtains and start turning off the lights at least 30 minutes before bed. This will encourage your brain to produce melatonin and prepare for sleep.
- Set the temperature – As we sleep, our bodies naturally drop in temperature. Keeping your room cool will keep you comfortable while you’re trying to drift off.
- Put on soothing music – Music that helps you relax will trigger your heartbeat and breathing to slow down. It also encourages your body to relax, giving your tense muscles a chance to release.
- Minimize distractions – As well all know and have experienced, distractions such as the TV or phones, are culprits for keeping us awake late into the night. When you are trying to promote healing in your body, now is an excellent time to practice putting the distractions away as early as possible.
- Ease your muscles – If you’re looking for something to do after the phones and lights are off, try giving your face a light massage. After surgery, the muscles in your jaw can become tense, which only adds to the pain. This is partially due to the open position your jaw has to be in for the extraction of the wisdom teeth in the back of your mouth. Lightly massaging the area just in front of your ear opening can give you a little bit of relief after the surgery.
After you have your wisdom teeth removed, the sleeping may be the easy part – the healing will take place on its own! However, to not prolong the process, be sure to follow your dentist or oral surgeon’s advice. Once the tooth removal is complete, you will be sent home with a list of things that you should avoid. In addition to the above seven things that you must do, here is a quick look at seven things you should not do:
- Smoke – The inhalation from smoking (anything) can dislodge the blood clot and stall the healing of the open wound.
- Drink carbonated beverages – The dislodgement of the blood clot comes from the bubbles in carbonated drinks. It’s best to avoid them for at least 3-4 days.
- Eat crunchy foods – Foods such as chips or nuts can become lodged in the open hole when broken down. As if you needed even more excuses to eat mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, or ice cream all day!
- Spit – If you find that you are still bleeding and needing to spit it out, try replacing the gauze instead. Excess spitting can disrupt the formation of the blood clot, and the bleeding will only continue.
- Use Straws – Similar to smoking and spitting, the suction from using a straw can affect the blood clot that has formed.
- Touch the wound – It goes without saying that when you are trying to allow a wound to heal, you shouldn’t touch it. This includes your fingers and tongue. The new hole will feel strange to your tongue, but avoid disrupting it.
- Rinse vigorously – This is pretty simple if you know that you need to avoid interfering with the blood clot. Instead, you can rinse gently with luke-warm saltwater.