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You might be able to successfully manage swelling after a tooth extraction with the use of either heat or ice. Many people who use ice to reduce swelling use it in the form of ice packs. If you do not have an ice pack on hand, you might be able to achieve the same results by filling a plastic bag or surgical glove up with ice and holding it against your face. In the event that you decide to use heat to attempt to reduce tooth swelling, you can use either a heating pad or towel that has been dipped in very warm water. The worst of your swelling after a tooth extraction will probably occur during the first few days after the procedure.
Ice tends to work well for managing swelling after a tooth extraction because the cold can constrict the blood vessels inside the gums. When the blood vessels are smaller, fluid cannot pass as easily through them. The reduced fluid passing through the blood vessels of the gums will make it harder for the area to swell. Most dentists recommend holding either an ice pack or something else containing ice against the faces in the general area where the tooth was pulled for approximately 10 minutes at a time. After the 10 minutes are up, you should probably leave the ice pack off for at least 20 minutes before putting it back on the swollen area.
Even though it may seem contradictory, heat can often help to reduce swelling after a tooth extraction as effectively as ice. Applying heat to an area where a tooth was pulled can cause the blood vessels in that area to dilate, which allows fluid to pass through quickly. When fluid is allowed to pass through the blood vessels at an increased rate of speed, the excess fluid that causes swelling can normally pass through the vessels faster, thereby making it easier for the body to get rid of these fluids and reduce the likelihood of swelling. When heat is used, dentists typically advise using either a heating pad or a warm, wet towel. You should hold the heating pad or warm towel against your face in the general area where your tooth was pulled and remove it after 20 minutes, waiting 20 more minutes before putting it back in place.
Your swelling after a tooth extraction will probably be the most severe during the first 48 hours. After this point, your swelling should go down with or without the use of heat or ice. If your swelling is still severe after that point or if it seems to be getting worse instead of better, don't delay calling your doctor or dentist. Swelling that keeps getting worse instead of improving over time might be a sign that you've developed an infection.
When I had my wisdom teeth out, my oral surgeon put in my post-op instructions for me to keep ice on my jaws, but also to keep my head and shoulders elevated with pillows while I slept, to help the drainage and reduce swelling. It worked really well.
A bag of frozen peas, corn or mixed veggies will also work as a good ice pack, since the bags will mold nicely around your face. Another option is to go to the first aid section of any drugstore and pick up some Blue Ice, which goes in the freezer, but is very flexible and reusable.
*Always* remember to put a towel or washcloth between your skin and the ice pack so you don't freeze your skin inadvertently.