Having surgery to extract your wisdom teeth is often a necessary procedure, and many people who have had these teeth removed have experienced chipmunk cheeks. Just because it’s completely normal, though, doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. Keep reading if you want to know more about:

  • What Causes Chipmunk Cheeks After Wisdom Teeth Removal?
  • How Can You Reduce the Swelling?

What Causes Chipmunk Cheeks After Wisdom Teeth Removal?

If you’re wondering why your cheeks are swollen post-surgery, think about any other injuries you may have had in your life. An ankle swells after rolling your foot, as does your head after being hit with a ball.

Now that you’ve thought of those examples, let’s go back to your cheeks after wisdom teeth surgery. This oral procedure involves a dental professional cutting and digging in your gums in order to extract the teeth. Naturally, your cheeks will swell after the surgery is over.

Swelling is the body’s natural reaction to an injury. Specifically, acute swelling -- swelling that takes place within 24 hours -- is what occurs after you have your wisdom teeth removed. Your body is attempting to heal the parts that have been damaged, which are in this case in your mouth. 

Lady Gaga shows off her chipmunk cheeks after having her wisdom teeth removed. She sits in bed and holds a stuffed monkey.
Lady Gaga posted this picture of herself on Twitter when she had her wisdom teeth removed back in 2014 with the caption “Chipmunk Cheeks. Wisdom Teeth out before tour. I can’t eat. I’m gonna put some meatballs in a blender.” Notice how she keeps her head elevated to reduce the swelling. Image courtesy of Twitter.

How Can You Reduce the Swelling?

Usually, you won’t notice any swelling until the day after your surgery. It reaches its peak 2 to 3 days after and can remain for a few days, which is nothing to worry about. Your chipmunk cheeks should be completely gone within a week.

While swelling around your cheeks, mouth, and sides of your face is inevitable, there are ways to reduce it, like:

  • Taking corticosteroids
  • Applying ice and heat to your face (at different times, of course)
  • Elevating your head 

Corticosteroids 

Cortisone-like medicines are used to treat redness, itching, and other symptoms of diseases like skin problems or asthma. You might be wondering how they can help people who have had their wisdom teeth removed. As it turns out, another function of corticosteroids is to reduce swelling. 

A study done in 2016 concluded that corticosteroids can help combat swelling, pain, and lockjaw in patients who have had their wisdom teeth extracted. While corticosteroids leave the bloodstream within 24 hours, the effects can last for up to three days. Before taking anything, talk to your dentist first.

Ice, Ice, Baby

During the first 24 hours post-surgery, you’ll want to apply ice packs to the outside of your face. Place an ice pack on the area for 15 minutes, then leave it off for 15 minutes. Repeating this process will help reduce the swelling.

A woman holds a blue ice pack to the left side of her face. Her eyes are closed and her face seems in pain.
You can apply ice packs to the affected areas practically as soon as the surgery is finished. Image courtesy of Vital Record.

Just Heat It 

Like mentioned previously, swelling peaks 48 to 72 hours after the surgery. When applying heat to your face, make sure it’s not too hot, as you don’t want to burn yourself. 

The process of applying heat to your face is relatively the same as applying ice packs, except you can apply heat for 5 extra minutes. Wrap a heating pad or a hot water pad in a towel and place it against your cheeks. Keep it on for 20 minutes, leave it off for 20 minutes, then repeat.

Keep Your Head Up

Elevating your head is one of the most important things you can do after you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed. This means sleeping with your head elevated and keeping your head up throughout the day, as this allows the fluid to drain from your face.

Sleeping with your head propped up with multiple pillows can help decrease the chipmunk cheeks. However, don’t be alarmed if you wake up one morning and your cheeks are more swelled than the night before -- it’s normal to have more swelling in the morning.

A woman sleeps, using one pillow and a wedge-like pillow to elevate her head.
Using multiple pillows when you sleep can help keep the swelling contained, as gravity can pull the fluid resting in your face out and into other areas of the body. Image courtesy of Snoring New Zealand.


While post-wisdom teeth surgery chipmunk cheeks are not the most pleasant thing to experience, the healing process is relatively quick, usually lasting only a week or a week and a half. If it’s past that time frame and you’re still experiencing swelling, contact your dentist, as there might be a problem. Otherwise, if you adhere to the advice in this article, you should be good to go.