A chewy subject: How to handle recovery from oral surgery

Posted on 08/18/20

Editor’s note:  AARP member and Manatee County resident Marti Wilson is retired registered nurse practitioner as well as a longtime stage performer, community volunteer and writer.  This  humorous look at one of the challenges of growing older – the whole losing-teeth thing – is shared with her permission.

By Marti Wilson

So you've finally gotten rid of that painful wisdom tooth. Or teeth.  I'm sure your dentist has told you it's for the best. And don't worry, losing wisdom teeth will not have you sitting in a corner wearing a dunce cap.

To me, a total hysterectomy with a cold butter knife and no anesthesia is better than going to the dentist. Like a lot of people, when it comes to dentistry, I’m a big-time coward.

But some dentists can make this whole scary business of tooth-yanking tolerable and feeling like you are one brave soul even without getting a lollypop.

Very recently, I had a nasty, hurting wisdom tooth extracted.  As far as I’m concerned, my dentist and his assistant now wear halos! Being a (retired) RNNP makes for being a lousy patient. But in this case, I bit the bullet (carefully) and the whole extraction thing turned out worse in my mind than in actuality.

Marti Wilson and parrot.jpg

So, being an expert now in post-tooth extraction do's and don'ts, I want to share.

The don’ts:

You're leaving the dentist's office, your mouth, face, lips, tongue and cheek are totally numb. You have a wad of gauze in your mouth that you're certain is the size of a rolled up sock!! You think you're drooling and probably are. But don’t spit! That clot that's forming in the extraction site is very important.  Protect it at all costs. If you drool on your clothes, they can be washed, but if you dislodge the clot and get what's called a dry socket, you're going to hurt big time! So dab with a Kleenex and put a bag of frozen peas (in a towel) on the extraction site.

  • Don't use heat and don't rinse after you take the gauze out, put in another if needed.
  • Don't use a straw; don't suck on anything, no cigars, cigarettes, no soda or spicy food.

The do’s:

  • Take your prescribed pain meds, but no aspirin.
  • Drink plenty of water. Do careful sipping or use a small spoon the first 24 or even 48 hours, as your dentist orders.

You will be numb for several hours and you probably won’t be hungry. But after a while, you will realize you have a tongue, face and lips you can feel again! And the need for food is coming back too. There will be pain but at least you are not destined to starve despite the excavation crew that has been in your mouth.
For the first 24 hours, it's best to stick to yogurt, ice cream, applesauce, mashed potatoes and baby food. And please, nothing hot! The TV seems to have added more commercials for pizza, chips and dips, soda, tacos, burgers and fries and more no-nos.

Another bad while we're at it. Avoid anything with seeds especially like fresh tomatoes. Those seeds can lodge in the operation site. Ow! 

A few days post-op, try a can of petite diced tomatoes; very few seeds, mix with refried beans, add some cheese and remember to let it cool, top it with sour cream and a mashed avocado sprinkled with garlic salt. Love it.

Pureed veggies with a pinch of seasoning and a dab of spray butter is good too. You still taste and still need nutrients, especially now, so you can heal.

Cooked rice may be soft but the grains can lodge in many places. I would avoid it for a week or two.

Pasta is tricky. I had tried some spaghetti O's, but they lodged everywhere and needed a lot of chewing. Regular spaghetti is better. You can also top pasta with alfredo sauce, tomato sauce, or both! Use your imagination. Be creative. Concoct your own palatable soft delights that will satisfy, nourish and keep the extraction site or sites safe.

For breakfast, remember, bacon is not an option yet, but eggs with some cheese, yeah, I can dig it! Try some grits with it. Yum.

How about yogurt? So much to choose from! Spoon it in or even drink it.  Have it with a mashed banana or squeeze pouches of applesauce.  Squeeze the pouch directly in your mouth, or into your yogurt, and mix. Healthy, tasty, no pieces.

Oatmeal is very healthy and with some fat free cream, very tasty. Cottage cheese is nice and soft and comes single serve with fruit.

And don’t forget soup. I love soup! Many of us grew up on familiar brands of tomato soup.  Rather than just adding water, try adding two-thirds water and one-third fat-free creamer – it’s creamy without the extra fat and calories (but who's counting?). Remember to let it cool. No sense adding insult to injury by burning tender gum tissue that's trying to heal. There are lots of suitable soups available, like split pea, butternut squash, sweet potato and more. Broth is good too.

How about dessert? Of course you need dessert! Ice cream, pudding, jello, flan, custard. No pieces!! Mix some coffee and chocolate ice cream with a dab of caramel sauce and a dollop of topping. Doesn't get any better. Leave out the crust and eat the lemon meringue, Key lime or chocolate cream pie.

Just think about the foods you are ingesting, try to avoid having pieces that can lodge after swallowing. Once you start rinsing, be gentle but get the mouth clean.

You may think that chewing on the opposite side will suffice. But in reality if it's a lower extraction, especially a wisdom tooth, the side of your tongue can rub where the gum is swollen and tender, generating more pain and delaying the healing. Some foods need a lot of chewing. 

Shop for the right groceries before your procedure. Once you start looking for easy-to-ingest vittles you'll find many to choose from.  You’ll find yourself dabbling with culinary concoctions you never dreamed of. Trust me,this clever achievement helps healing. It gives you a sense of accomplishment, reduces anxiety and takes your mind off your pain.

Hey, I know after several days of "baby food," you'd give up your spouse and firstborn for a salad, pepperoni pizza and some potato chips!  But hang in there -- this tooth shall pass! Always remember to follow your dentist's instructions. 

We may be a little past the point of putting that tooth under our pillow.  But it doesn't mean that the Tooth Fairy isn't still looking out for us.

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