Dental surgery and recovery

If you have dental surgery, you might get side effects like pain, bleeding and swelling.

There's a low chance of infection after dental surgery. We do not always give you antibiotics to take after surgery.

You can avoid an infection by looking after your mouth after surgery. 


If you have stitches, these usually dissolve and you do not need to have them removed. It takes up to 2 weeks for the stitches to dissolve.

If we use stitches that do not dissolve, we remove them at a follow-up appointment. Otherwise, your local dentist or doctor removes the stitches.

Stitches can come loose or be lost immediately after surgery, but this does not normally cause a problem.

How to look after your mouth after dental surgery

Brush your teeth as normal, but be gentle around the area that you had treated. 

Rinsing your mouth with salt water can lower the risk of infection. Do not do this until 8 hours after your treatment.

From the day after your surgery, rinse your mouth with a glass of warm water that contains 1 teaspoon of salt. Remember to spit out the mouthwash.


Do this 4 times a day, for 4 to 5 days after treatment.

Do not rinse your mouth on the day of surgery. This might wash out the blood clot (a clump of blood that prevents too much bleeding) and delay healing.

Signs of infection

If you have a tooth removed (extraction), look for any signs of infection. The pain and swelling usually get worse about 4 to 6 days after surgery.

If you have an infection, this can be treated with antibiotics. However, antibiotics can make the contraceptive pill less effective. If you take the contraceptive pill, you need to use another type of contraception while on antibiotics. 

If you are concerned, please contact the dental surgery department or your local dentist for more advice.

Side effects of dental surgery


It's common to have some pain after your dental surgery. This is usually worse in the first 2 to 3 days and then starts to get better.

Pain is different for each person. It depends on what type of surgery you had and how much discomfort you can tolerate.

You can buy painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, from a pharmacy or shop. We do not automatically prescribe painkillers.

Please follow the advice that your dental team gives you and the instructions in the leaflet that comes with the painkillers. Do not take more than the recommended amount (dose). 


It is common to have some blood in your saliva (spit) for a few days after dental surgery.

If you have bleeding, use one of the gauze packs that your dental team has given you. A gauze is a surgical dressing made of loosely woven cotton. If you do not have a gauze, you can use a clean cotton handkerchief.

Wet the gauze or handkerchief lightly and put it over the area. Bite firmly for at least 10 minutes or until the bleeding stops.

If the bleeding does not stop, contact your local dentist. If you cannot contact your usual dentist, call the hospital dental team or go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).


After dental surgery, you might have swelling of the mouth. This is common, even after simple procedures. You might be able to see the swelling outside the mouth and have some bruising. 

The swelling can appear in the first 48 hours after surgery. It usually lasts for 5 to 7 days before getting better. This is a normal part of the healing process and does not mean that you have an infection.

Dry socket

Dry socket is pain and inflammation in the area where we have removed a tooth (extraction). You might have increasing pain, a foul (unpleasant) taste and bad breath. This usually happens 3 to 5 days after treatment. 

Dry socket is a common problem, but it is more likely if you smoke or take the contraceptive pill. 

Dry socket can be treated by carefully washing the area and putting on an antiseptic dressing. We can put on the dressing in the hospital or your local dentist can do this.

If you are concerned about dry socket, contact the dental surgery department. 

Sensitive or tender teeth

It is common for teeth next to the area that you had treated to feel tender or more sensitive to food and drink. This is more common if you had teeth removed (extractions).

It can sometimes help to use special toothpaste for sensitive teeth (desensitising toothpaste).

Weak teeth

If the teeth next to the area that you had treated are weak, they might break during or immediately after surgery. For example, the teeth might be weak because of decay or have large fillings or crowns. If this happens, you will need to ask your local dentist to check these teeth and treat the problem.

Eating and drinking

Be careful when eating or drinking in the first few hours after surgery. Your mouth might be numb from the anaesthetic and you could easily bite or burn yourself.

You might find it uncomfortable to eat solid foods for 1 or 2 days. A soft diet can be easier to manage. Good examples of soft food are soups, scrambled eggs, spaghetti, bread and mashed potatoes. 

You need to avoid hot food and drinks for 2 days because they could cause bleeding. 

In addition to using the warm salt mouthwash, it is important that you still brush your teeth as normal. Be gentle around the area where you had the surgery.


Please avoid exercise for a few days after dental surgery.

Time off work

A local anaesthetic is when you stay awake, but we make an area of your mouth numb during dental surgery. After a local anaesthetic, most people do not need time off work.

A general anaesthetic is a medicine to make you sleep during dental surgery, so that you do not feel any pain. After a general anaesthetic, most people need 2 to 4 days off work. 

We usually tell you in advance if you are likely to need time off work. We cannot always predict how long this will be, as it is different for everyone.

Resource number: 2969/VER5
Last reviewed: July 2021
Next review: July 2024

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Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please call the oral surgery department.

Phone: 020 7188 3885, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

In an emergency, go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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