It's remarkable how far gone a tooth must be before extraction becomes the only option. A dentist can often restore a tooth that has deteriorated to the point where much of its surface structure has been lost. When the tooth's nerve and root cannot be saved, a root canal (followed by a rebuilding of the tooth) can restore it to full functionality. But there are limits to what is actually possible in dentistry, so extraction is sometimes unavoidable.
Extraction and your subsequent healing should be a straightforward process, although the first stages of your recovery will involve some swelling, which can be considerable for some patients. What should you know about the swelling you'll experience after a tooth is extracted?
A Biological Response
The removal of a tooth and its root is inevitably traumatic. Swelling is a biological response to this trauma, and your immune system is redirecting white blood cells and fluids to the affected area. This helps to protect affected tissues while also flushing out dead cells from the site of trauma. The physical discomfort associated with the process can be managed with pain medication — either over-the-counter or medication provided by your dentist.
When Swelling Peaks
Swelling will begin immediately after extraction and will continue for some days. Extraction is a form of oral surgery, and swelling from oral surgery tends to peak some 32 to 48 hours after the procedure. This is perfectly normal, and you can expect that your swelling will get worse before it begins to subside. Your swelling may be confined to the interior of your mouth, although it may be evident on the exterior of your cheek.
In addition to swelling, some patients may have visible bruising. This is not the same for everyone, and those with a pre-existing medical condition which makes them more prone to bruising may be more susceptible to bruising. This includes conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, and hemophilia.
Swelling can generally be left to its own devices. After tooth extraction, your swelling will peak and then subside with some predictability. In addition to any pain relief, you may find a cold compress to be beneficial, with the temperature of the compress helping to reduce inflammation.
If your swelling should not begin to subside after 48 hours, or if your discomfort appears to be escalating, you must contact the dentist who performed the extraction. No matter how routine extraction might be, the possibility of an infection or aggravation to surrounding tissues cannot be ruled out, so don't hesitate to get in touch with your dentist if you should have any concerns.