Jaw surgery: Post-operative care instructions

If you have just had jaw surgery, these post-operative care instructions will help you understand what to expect.

Following your surgery, you will likely have altered sensation in your lips, gums, cheeks, eyelids and possibly your tongue. As your nerves heal, you will experience tingling, then a gradual return of function. If you are not numb, this may mean you require more pain relief.

Any bleeding should settle before you are discharged from your overnight hospital stay. With upper jaw surgery, nasal overflow bleeding can persist for a few days when you’re getting up and moving around, so keep a tissue handy. If you are experiencing vigorous nasal bleeding that you can’t control by using pressure, get in contact with your surgeon or call an ambulance if you feel this is an emergency.

If you’ve had a chinstrap applied, this should be worn for four to five days following your surgery. When removing your chinstrap, place one finger on your skin (pulling the skin in the opposite direction) and slowly peel the chinstrap off. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, please call our offices and we will remove it for you at your first post-operative visit.

It’s important that you only eat vitamised or non-chew foods for the first two weeks. Vitamised foods include meals such as baby food, smoothies and soup. 

However, the texture of your food is less important than the effect of pressure on the operated jaw. You can swallow whatever your tongue will allow, but you should not use your teeth until advised by your surgeon.

Elastics are placed in your mouth during surgery and must be worn at all times. You’ll leave the hospital with a supply of replacement elastics, but if you run out, please contact our office and come in to collect additional bands.

It’s a good idea to take a photo of your mouth with the elastics in place as, if one breaks or needs to be removed, you’ll know where to place them again. 

You will be provided with a chlorhexidine mouth rinse, which should be used at least three times a day from the day you are discharged from hospital. Rinse gently or hold the mouthwash in your mouth for one minute before gently spitting it out. Alternatively, you can use warm water with saturated regular salt to rinse your mouth. It’s particularly important to rinse after meals to avoid food sitting along your wounds.

We will prescribe antibiotics for seven to 14 days to prevent infections in the wound, but please let us know if you have a reaction as we can provide alternatives. 

You’re encouraged to use simple analgesia pain relief such as paracetamol and Nurofen for the first five days after your operation. We will arrange stronger narcotic-prescribed analgesia, but patients often find that they don’t require this level of pain relief. The stronger the analgesia, the more likely you are to encounter reactions such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness and constipation; if these occur, please feel free to contact your surgeon.

Gently brush your teeth with a small soft bristle toothbrush and, if desired, toothpaste. Your upper gums will have reduced sensation if you’ve had upper jaw surgery, so be careful not to injure your gums while brushing. 

You should also rinse your mouth at least three times a day with salty water or using the prescribed mouthwash, especially after eating. 

You should not take part in any exercise or sports that may involve objects hitting your jaw. This includes all contact sports, any sport involving a ball and any other aggressive sports. You can resume light aerobic exercise, swimming or running as soon as you feel able, but make sure that you don’t clench or stress your jaw muscles during heavy lifting or activity.

If you have had a bone graft from your hip area, any physical activity should be approached slowly and carefully. It may take four weeks before the hip area feels comfortable during exercise. We recommend that you don’t lift anything heavier than your clothing for the first four weeks after hip surgery.

Most patients should expect to take two weeks off work or school, but this can be discussed prior to the procedure. You should anticipate that your energy levels will be reduced and your ability to concentrate will be impaired to varying degrees. 

We use dissolving sutures and a long running stitch that should be kept as clean as possible. If your stitches loosen, please let us know at your first post-operative appointment.

You may experience swelling and bruising around the mouth, cheek, eyes, chest and side of the face. The amount of swelling varies from person to person, but there is generally more swelling with lower jaw surgery than upper jaw surgery. 

Ice packs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to diminish swelling while lip balm can make swollen lips more comfortable. You will be encouraged to keep your head elevated for the first week following surgery, since an upright posture and early movement helps to minimise swelling. During the second and third post-operative weeks, this swelling subsides dramatically.

Following your surgery, you will be asked to have new x-rays taken. These can be done at your convenience prior to or at your first post-operative visit.

After surgery

After jaw surgery, you may experience the side effects described here and will also need to follow the instructions on this page. If you are concerned or something doesn’t feel quite right, please call our office immediately on 5229 3200.

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