If you've just undergone oral surgery, here’s what to eat (and what to stay away from).
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

The first thought that popped into my head after my dentist told me he needed to remove seven of my teeth—yes, seven... more on that in a minute—wasn't about how much pain I’d be in or about how much it would cost. My first thought was, "Well, maybe this is the juice cleanse I never wanted to do.”

For most common oral surgeries—wisdom teeth removal, impacted teeth removal, or even an impacted root canal—you'll be able to slowly start reintroducing most crunchy, fibrous foods back into your routine around one week post operation. Count yourself lucky. But, if you're like me, a complicated case with multiple impacted teeth being removed at once, you could have to eat liquid or soft foods for up to 6 weeks.

As I write this, I've been eating soft foods for three weeks, and I'm at least looking at another two weeks before I can chew normally again. (Sorry if this is TMI, but I'm suffering from a perforated sinus, a dilemma where I can't sneeze, cough, chew, or spit for an entire month.)

A word to the wise: don't fret over your diet right now. You're healing from a major surgery (no matter how common extractions have become), and recovery can be long and complicated. This might be the one time I say this as an editor at Cooking Light, but avoid nutrition labels and calorie counts for now—focus on nourishing your body the best you can while it works to get healthy again.

I've tried at least 40 different grocery items over the last three weeks, sometimes finding a new way to enjoy a soft meal—but mostly failing miserably. As I approach my one-month mark, I've figured out exactly what I can eat without irritating my gums, plus a few tips and tricks to avoid searing pain.

To start, here are 7 foods you can (probably!) eat:

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1) Fresh Smoothies

The first thing many people will tell you is to load up on ice cream to make milkshakes, but there's a good chance you'll be on a strong dose of antibiotics which can damage your gut microbiome. You can soothe your aching gums and work on stabilizing your gut health by making smoothies with tons of probiotic-rich yogurt. Try adding Greek yogurt into your smoothies, then tame its tang by mixing in naturally sweet additives like frozen fruit, bananas, or even cocoa powder. You probably won't be able to use a straw, so add plenty of milk, or even a bit of water, to ensure the consistency is really thin. Tilt your head back and enjoy!

2) Soups and Canned Broths

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You probably guessed that soup would be on this list, and you’re right. But, as I learned, not all soups are enjoyable after oral surgery.

Chicken noodle soup sounds like a safe bet, but chunky add-ins aren't a good idea until you're able to slowly move your jaw without causing pain. For the first few days, use a strainer to separate any noodles, vegetables, and meat from your soup. You can add them back into your broth after you've chopped them up (or even blended them) in order to swallow without any trouble. Of course, you can also whip up broths and soups from scratch, which gives you the control to add in as many ingredients as you'd like—or none at all.

3) Eggs

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In the last five days, I've eaten close to two dozen eggs (don't worry about my cholesterol just yet). I've enjoyed sheet-pan baked eggs and I've even managed a few forkfuls of quiche lorraine (minus the crust). But the easiest—and most delicious—meal I've enjoyed since having surgery is a plate of soft-scrambled eggs. You'll stir these eggs until they've barely firmed, add your choice of cheese, and transfer directly to a plate. They'll continue cooking while they cool down, and alongside half an avocado, it's a hearty meal that'll make you feel happy again (trust me).

4) Cheese

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Cheese can also be a good source of probiotics, and so if you're looking to snack on something, soft cheese is a great option. You should be able to swallow small pieces, and shredded cheese is a great addition to any meal you may be eating throughout your recovery. In a hurry, cottage cheese is also an excellent snack.

5) Oatmeal

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If you simply can't stomach another serving of eggs, instant oatmeal can be a good option for breakfast. Don't make steel-cut oats—they’re too tough to swallow whole. I’ve relied on this basic oatmeal recipe, and you can add in some soft fruit such as bananas or mashed blueberries.

6) Mashed Potatoes

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You may be tempted to reach for a box of instant mashed potatoes as you recover, but you can make creamy, soft, and delicious mashed potatoes at home with as little as three ingredients and a hand blender (or Vitamix). Mixing in small additions to your mashed potatoes—like herbs or even minced bacon—is a safe option, as long as you take the time to finely dice them. There are at least 21 different ways to make silky-smooth mashed potatoes at home, which should keep you busy for a while.

7) Turkey Kielbasa

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I'm a huge fan of chicken and other lean proteins, but you'll notice they're nowhere on this list. They're just too tough to eat while recovering from oral surgery—even if you're able to find shredded chicken.

If you're looking for meat that's safe enough to swallow whole, I highly recommend turkey kielbasa (otherwise known as Polish sausage), which is versatile enough to keep things interesting while you recover. Whether you dice some up for pan frying or simply cube it and toss it into soups or broths, turkey kielbasa is a great way to feel like you're eating a substantial meal without risk of choking.

8) Pudding, Frosting, and Sheet Cakes

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You'll be happy to hear that a whole bunch of dessert can be on the menu when you're recovering—pudding slides down your throat effortlessly, so you'll probably want to load up on a 12-pack of Jello. But I'm also happy to report that a frosted cake or cupcake can be managed with a spoon and some patience. Enjoy your treat with a glass of cold milk and everything will wash down easily.

Now, for the not-so-great part. You'll need to avoid these 6 foods at all costs:

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

1) Roasted Vegetables

Anyway you slice it or dice it, roasted vegetables are not easy to chew and swallow when you've just had oral surgery. From experience, I can confidently say that finely chopped roasted broccoli became lodged in one of my gums after I couldn't swallow it whole. I had to fish it out with a toothbrush, and you probably will, too.

You might be disappointed to hear this, but the best way to enjoy vegetables after oral surgery is to puree them into a warm soup.

2) Most Meat

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Unless you're eating a chopped up slice of meatloaf (pro tip: shepherd's pie is a good choice later in your recovery), you can forget having poultry, beef, pork, or fish at mealtime. I haven't found an easy way to eat meat (it’s hard when you can’t chew), but if you attempt it at home, my advice would be to cut your protein into tiny pieces. Even then, there's a chance that chicken can turn into a choking hazard.

3) Bread

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I miss bread so much, but it’s something you simply can't have during the first few days of your recovery. Toast, muffins, bagels, and crusty bread are off the menu for now, as these can do some serious damage to your gums. If your jaw and gums are feeling stronger after the first five days, sweet Hawaiian rolls are a good place to start since they’re so soft.

4) Spicy Foods

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Salt and pepper are normally a home cook's best friend, but you'll want to avoid adding these in excess if you hate lingering stinging and burning in your mouth after mealtime. Ditto for spices like cayenne pepper or chile powder.

5) Crackers, Pretzels, Chips, Seeds, Nuts, etc.

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If you eat it at snack time, there's a good chance you can't eat it for up to three weeks after your procedure. The sodium content will likely irritate sensitive gums, plus, there's a good chance crunchy snacks can get stuck in any healing holes (ouch!)

6) Pasta

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The only noodles you’ll be able to eat are macaroni and cheesea lifesaver, to be honest—and overcooked wide egg noodles that have been broken into manageable pieces. Penne, rigatoni, and most other popular varieties are too rigid to swallow easily.