a woman holding a cold pack against her face for pain and swelling relief

Swelling is a common after effect of oral surgery. Swelling often peaks two to three days following a procedure and can be a very uncomfortable part of the recovery process. Although you can’t prevent this bodily reaction, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce swelling and decrease discomfort after oral surgery.

Use a Cold Compress

For the first 24 hours following oral surgery, cold ice packs or compresses should be used to manage swelling and pain. Wrap a few cubes of ice, an ice pack, or even a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel so that the cold will not be in direct contact with your skin. Hold the cold source against the outside of your face, nearest to where the surgery occurred, and keep it there for 15 minutes. You should follow a cycle of 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. If you had a surgery involving more than one area of the mouth (for example, if you had wisdom teeth on both sides of your mouth removed), you can use the 15-minute cycles to alternate between the two swollen areas. Cold therapy becomes less effective after 24 hours, and the next step of reducing swelling is to switch to heat.

Switch to Heat

Swelling will reach its peak around two to three days following surgery. At this time, you should begin using heat to reduce swelling and discomfort (but do not use heat before this point). Moist heat is less irritating to your skin and allows the blood vessels to expand, letting them carry away the fluids that cause swelling. Just like with cold treatments, wrap a heat source (like a hot water bottle) in a towel and apply it to the swollen area in 20-minute intervals. Apply heat for 20 minutes, then leave it off for another 20 and repeat. It may still take several days for swelling to fully reduce, but moist heat will help speed up the process.

Rest and Elevation

Abundant rest is essential after any type of surgery, oral surgery included. Overexerting yourself can dislodge blood clots that form as your mouth heals, and resting will allow your immune system to focus on taking care of your surgery site. Another way to reduce swelling is to ensure that your head is always elevated. Sitting up or lying down with your head elevated can help reduce swelling by preventing blood pressure from building up. If your head is flat or even lower than the rest of your body, blood can pool at the surgical site, making swelling worse. By staying elevated, you allow the blood to continue to flow down and away from the surgical site, thus keeping swelling to a minimum.

Rinse With Salt Water

A salt water rinse serves two important purposes. First, it helps to keep the surgical area clean. The salt acts as an antibacterial agent, killing any bacteria that might otherwise attack vulnerable wounds. It can even draw out any infection that may be starting. The rinse is also quite effective at reducing swelling. Mix one teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water, and rinse gently four times a day. Be sure to not rinse too hard so that you do not disrupt the healing process. 

Practice Proper Care After Oral Surgery

Swelling is inevitable following any surgical procedure, but if you take the right steps, you can help reduce swelling and promote your body’s healing process. Be sure to follow the instructions given by your oral surgeon after your procedure, and speak with them about other ways to reduce swelling and make the healing process as easy and pain-free as possible. The specialists at St. Luke’s OMS are well-versed in performing many oral surgery procedures and can provide you with the guidance you need for a successful recovery. If you have any questions about common oral surgical procedures or how to reduce swelling after oral surgery, please feel free to contact us today.