Those of you who have been following my health journey know that 2020 was a whirlwind year of dental issues that culminated in having a molar extracted.
It had been almost a decade since I had my wisdom teeth removed, and I had either forgotten or blacked out what the aftermath was like. Like a fool, I had a full week of meetings and interviews scheduled for my book, not realizing that I would look like a chipmunk and barely be able to open my mouth for 24 hours.
My oral surgeon of course sent me home with a one pager on how to care for my mouth and what not to eat in the days and weeks that followed. But having lived through it in the real world, I thought I could put the instructions into more useful terms with recipes and meal plan guidance.
More importantly, the food suggestions (apple sauce, Jello, etc.) left a lot to be desired from a nutrition, not to mention, a pleasure standpoint. Below I’ve put together some liquid foods that will fit the bill in the early days following wisdom teeth removal (or any tooth extraction) and some softer things that you can transition to as you heal.
It took me 4 or 5 days before I was able to eat a real meal with solid foods that weren’t pureed. But moreover, I stuck with mostly soft foods for a total of two weeks, which meant I needed quite a few ideas in my arsenal.
Read on for my best tips for what to eat after wisdom teeth removal and what foods will limit inflammation and keep your wounds happy.
With health and hedonism,
TIPS FOR RECOVERY AFTER WISDOM TEETH REMOVAL OR ORAL SURGERY
First let’s start with the basics, in case your oral surgeon did not give you a primer.
Ideally, schedule your wisdom teeth removal for the afternoon so that you can get a large, solid meal in beforehand. Though there are liquid foods you can eat within the first 24 hours, between the meds and the pain, you might not be able to get much down. Go with something filling and full of fiber—nuts and seeds are a bonus since you will not be eating those things for a WHILE.
Control the bleeding: Your doctor will likely instruct you to tamp down on the wounds with gauze for the first day after surgery. It’s best to wet the gauze prior to putting it in your mouth so that there’s no sticking. Have a few black tea bags at the ready in case the bleeding continues without lessening for more than 24 hours. The tannic acid in the tea will help stop the bleeding. Soak the bag in warm water for a few minutes, squeeze it out, and bite down on it the same way you’ve been doing with the gauze.
Control the swelling: The more you can ice your face with a flexible ice pack or frozen peas within the first 24 hours, the better you will look and feel the following day. Apply for 20-30 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Use a thin dish towel or pillow case around the pack so it’s gentler on your skin. After the first 24 hours, STOP USING ICE. Two days post-op you can switch to warm compresses. Fill a bag with rice and stick it in the microwave or use a gentle heating pad. Do this 2-3 times a day for a few days. If you’re worried about appearances, I would give yourself a week before your face returns to normal to resume any public-facing activities (unless you don’t care, in which case, go for it).
Control the pain: Avoid narcotics or prescription pain killers at all costs. It is not worth the potential addiction and the side effects can make recovery even harder in the long term. Combining over the counter ibuprofen with acetaminophen should cover your bases. Make sure to only take this medication with food. See below for what to eat after wisdom teeth removal in the first 24 hours.
Avoid rinsing, spitting, smoking or using a straw: anything that causes friction will disturb the wounds ability to heal. This applies for the first few days after surgery as well, though I didn’t return to using a straw for a week.
Avoid heavy exercise or activity for at least 72 hours: The rush of blood to your head and increase in heart rate may cause throbbing in the wound and increased bleeding. Take this opportunity to rest up and take it easy. Put on your favorite Netflix show and binge on the couch or work from bed.
Prop yourself up to sleep: Having enough pillows under your back and head to create a 45 degree angle will help decrease blood flow to the wound and limit inflammation. Ideally, you’ll sleep on your back, but that may be a given since your cheeks will not be fun to put pressure on.
Avoid using toothpaste or brushing near the site for 24 hours: mouthwash is also a no-no as the alcohol is much too harsh for an open wound. Starting 1 day post-op you can begin to brush again with toothpaste.
WHAT TO EAT AFTER WISDOM TEETH REMOVAL, MOUTH SURGERY or TOOTH EXTRACTION
THE FIRST 24 HOURS
The day of surgery especially, you want to eat only room temperature (nothing too hot or cold) soft or liquid foods. You will have trouble chewing or opening your mouth very wide, so I found that liquid soups or smoothies were best sipped from a mug or cup. Even opening my mouth to accommodate a spoon hurt the day of the removal. You also want to avoid anything that’s too acidic or spicy: vinegar, lemon juice or citrus, tomatoes, hot sauce. Alcohol would also fall in that category, but in the name of inflammation and pain killers, hopefully it’s obvious that you need to lay off the sauce!
The standard recommendations include apple sauce, Jello, pudding and ice cream. But keep in mind that you’re also healing and your body will need some nutrients in order to do that. Also, dairy can be hard on the stomach on a good day, and you probably don’t want to have to deal with GI issues on top of your mouth misery.
Here are some more healthy options that I recommend:
- Scrambled eggs with a generous amount of ghee or coconut oil
- Full fat plain Greek yogurt with peanut or almond butter, honey and mashed banana
- A berry or green smoothie (room temperature) – add in’s like collagen, turmeric, or L-glutamine powder are excellent for speeding up healing time
- Pureed soup (room temperature) – Avoid anything with heavy cream in it. Also, tomato soup will be too acidic for the first few days. Opt for things with vegetables that pack an anti-inflammatory punch. Bonus points for adding collagen and turmeric. I’d recommend making a batch of soup before surgery so you have it for the week. Here are some options, just omit any toppings, citrus or chilis:
DAYS 1-4 POST-OP
When can I eat solid food after wisdom teeth removal?
This is a popular question. But it depends on your progress. While some dentists will tell you that you can return to softer solid foods after the first two days, I would recommend giving yourself 4 or 5 days. Trust me, it will speed up the overall recovery. Plus, as I discovered, there are plenty of soft whole foods that will fit the bill that still feel like solid foods.
Here are some rough menu ideas. I’ve included recipes from my archives where applicable, but definitely modify according to the general advice above (omit anything crunchy or par-cooked veggies you’re not ready for) and still to the bare bones of the recipe:
Oatmeal made with plant-based milk – cook it a little longer than you would normally and add some extra liquid so it gets very soft. Recipe: Snickerdoodle Oatmeal
Chicken or plain rice congee – this Chinese medicine staple is very filling and easy to eat. You can garnish with soy sauce or tamari and sesame oil for some extra flavor. If adding chicken, make sure it’s very finely shredded or chopped. Day 1 you might opt for just the rice. If you use a really flavorful, nutritious bone broth you will still get the necessary protein and collagen. Recipe: Chicken Congee in my book
Mashed semi-sweet potatoes with mashed avocado on top – I like using both regular potatoes and sweet potatoes for a savory mix. Mashed avocado is another great way to add some health fats and fiber to the mix. A little tamari on top and melted butter or ghee is a great accent.
Chicken liver pate or mousse: for those who are worried about not getting enough animal protein, a liver mousse is a very easy way to get the job done and benefit from all the nutrients in offal.
Canned tuna salad with mayo: Skip the celery and other add-ins, but simple canned tuna or salmon with some mayo is a great option for lunch.
Cauliflower rice or couscous: Pretty much any soft carb will be on the menu after a few days, but if you’re looking to get your vegetables in, consider replacing it with cauliflower rice. You can buy this frozen and reheat to your desired texture. Recipe: Cauliflower Couscous (not nuts!)
Risotto: This starchy rice makes a side of grains feel like a meal. You can use any soft or pureed vegetables in here. A can of pumpkin would work well, like in this recipe for Pumpkin Risotto. This Mushroom Risotto would work too.
Ramen or Vietnamese pho: so long as you avoid spice packets that are too hot, a gingery ramen or pho would be a great way to get some bone broth and simple soft carbs into your system. I recommend waiting a day or two for this one if your mouth is sore so you won’t be tempted to slurp. Recipes: Miso-Mushroom Ramen or Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Peanut noodles: peanut butter is another great way to get protein and some fresh ginger in, which is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. I love the sauce when it’s tossed with spaghetti. Just cook it past al dente so you don’t have to do too much chewing. Recipe: Gluten-Free Peanut Noodles (omit cucumber, sriracha, scallions)
Dairy-free creamed spinach: vegetables tend to be crunchy or require more chewing, so I found the biggest challenge to be finding ways to eat them without fully pureeing. Frozen chopped greens—spinach, kale or collards—cooked down in some broth until very soft was the easiest option. You can add some dairy-free milk to make it “creamy.” Or fold them into some mashed potatoes. Recipe: Healthy Creamed Spinach
Mushy peas: another side that’s easy on the mouth, you can take frozen peas, cook them until soft and then use a fork or masher to get them into a mushy consistency. Recipe: Mushy Pea Toasts (Just use the topping, duh)
Fish stew: So long as you are careful to remove any bones, fish tends to be the softest animal protein, especially if used in a stew. Add some potatoes or a vegetable that can cook down into mush – broccoli or green beans work well. Use bone broth as a base or coconut milk with some ginger for an Asian-inspired version. Recipe: Basque Cod, Pepper and Potato Stew (omit tomatoes if early on)
Vegetable daal or kitchari – Lentils are another great source of fiber and protein and they cook down into a wonderful mush. Many Indian recipes will use a lot of heat, so just skip any hot peppers or cayenne. Turmeric and ginger are fantastic for healing, like in the below kitchari. This masala is also great, but wait until a few days post-surgery or omit the tomatoes and hot peppers if sooner. Recipe: Ayruvedic Cleansing Green Kitchari (omit the broccoli or add it early on so it cooks to mush) or Lentil Masala (Omit tomatoes and hot peppers, until further along)
SAMPLE MEAL PLAN
Breakfast: Yogurt, oatmeal, scrambled egg or smoothie
Lunch: Pureed soup, congee or daal, tuna salad or pate
Dinner: Ramen or pho, peanut noodles, mashed potato and avocado bowls, or fish stew
ONWARD: WEEK 2
The week after surgery you’ll be expanding your diet to include more foods, but still making an effort to avoid anything overly crunchy, sharp or hard. Raw vegetables will still be tough to process, even though you’re chewing better. And nuts, seeds, crackers and chips will need to be avoided for another few weeks, until you’re fully healed.
Roasted vegetables, all grains, and cooked meats, poultry and fish are all on the menu, so there’s a lot more flexibility for your meal planning. Acidic and spicy foods will also be tolerated better now. Here are some recipes that I think would be excellent options for week 2 after your wisdom teeth removal that the whole family will love:
- Mushroom Bolognese with Polenta
- Moroccan Lamb Chili with Sweet Potatoes and Kale
- Healthy Tuna Noodle Casserole
- Turkish Eggplant Casserole
- Sheet Pan Salmon with Carrots
- Braised White Beans and Cabbage Bake
- Samosa Shepherds Pie
- Vegan Mushroom Risotto
- Moroccan Lentil Soup with Chard
- Vegetarian Japchae
- Baked Italian Chicken Meatballs
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Hash
- Pork Stew with Red Chiles
- Spaghetti Squash with White Bolognese
- Italian Sausage Frittata
- Brown Rice Jambalaya (Vegan)
Hopefully this list will be a great start to help you think outside the box when feeding yourself after getting your wisdom teeth removed. As you can see, there are a lot more delicious, nutritious options than the packaged foods on your dentist’s list.
I’d love to hear from you below any more ideas for soft foods that have helped you after oral surgery! Comment below.