Ice packs. Netflix. Eating soup on the couch. Sounds like a super-fun recovery weekend, right? This year I learned from my dentist that I needed oral surgery to correct a gum recession problem (PSA: apparently this is why you shouldn’t brush your teeth too hard!) and two weeks ago, I finally went under the knife to get it fixed with what they call the “pinhole” surgery. As the operation day approached, I put some diligent thought into how to best support myself nutritionally for a speedy recovery. It was obvious that I would need to stock up on soft/easy-to-eat foods, but from a dietitian’s perspective, I couldn’t help but draw up some plans to emphasize my favorite nutrients to facilitate the healing process. And it should go without saying, that I also wanted to continue to ENJOY food while I heal… gotta keep flavor in mind to nourish the body + spirit.
Sure, you could say I’m ‘overthinking’ it for a relatively minor surgery – the doctor’s only dietary orders were to avoid crunchy and sticky foods – but on my follow-up visits, the surgeon praised my quick healing, so I’m thinking the effort was worthwhile!
So how does a registered dietitian approach a post-op recovery diet? Here are the things that went under my consideration:
Gum Surgery Recovery Plan:
First off, for wound healing, it’s important to get enough calories and protein for your body to generate new tissue and heal. This means making an effort to eat well, to make sure that a sore mouth or poor appetite won’t lead to meal-skipping or under-eating. It also means paying special attention to build meals around healthy protein sources like eggs, lean meats/poultry, yogurt, beans, soy, etc.
But beyond those basics, there are a few other key nutrients/foods that I wanted to emphasize in my post-op recovery plan:
Vitamin C: An essential co-factor in the generation of collagen, this nutrient is key for healing tissue. As a bonus, it’s an antioxidant so it decreases systemic oxidative stress and consequently inflammation.
- Food Sources: tomatoes, peppers, fruits like strawberries, oranges, or pineapple
Zinc: This mineral has a structural role in many enzymes, including several that are involved in pathways for collagen formation and in supporting the immune system. It’s clinically proven that adequate zinc status is important in aiding wound healing; in hospital settings, dietitians even prescribe zinc sulfate supplements to help patients with difficult wounds. I didn’t bother with that extra expense, but I did focus on eating plenty of my favorite zinc-rich foods.
- Food Sources: beef, beans, mushrooms, dairy, wheat germ
Anti-Inflammatory foods: Certain foods work with your body to decrease its systemic inflammatory response, while others just add more fuel to the fire. Since I knew I was going to be dealing with a lot of swelling, I did everything I could to tilt the scales in the right direction:
- Dietary Approach:
- more veggies, fruits, healthy fats, fish, soy, turmeric, ginger, green tea
- less refined flours and sugars
I also chose to support my regimen with a couple of supplements: fish oil capsules for an extra anti-inflammatory boost from omega 3’s, and a bottle of probiotic supplements to innoculate my gut with a beneficial microbiome after finishing the course of antibiotics required following the surgery. (I buy these fish oil capsules from NOW Foods, and although I picked up Ultimate Flora probiotics, I think next time I would try these ones for a better value). [affiliate links FYI]
So, after I had my game plan ready, how did I work these foods into my diet? Here’s a glimpse into my week following the procedure:
Behold, the Green Smoothie Pop. I received these fun squeeze-pop molds as a get-well gift from my mom (how sweet is that? she obviously gets me.). The day before my appointment, I whizzed up a mason jar magic bullet filled with frozen banana, frozen pineapple, fresh spinach, orange juice and almond milk, and poured the blend into the tubes to freeze. It was the right thing to do. Delicious tropical flavor, soothing cold for gum pain, and the pineapple and orange juice pack a punch of vitamin C for healing!
Leading up to my surgery, I naturally ended up discussing the finer points of the mechanical soft diet with my dietitian coworkers. When the idea of crispy grilled cheese saturated with creamy tomato soup came up, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. During my pre-op grocery run, the first things to get tossed into my basket were a loaf of whole-grain sourdough bread, some lovely grass-fed sharp cheddar, and an ultra-convenient box of Imagine light-sodium Garden Tomato Soup. With the bread lightly brushed with olive oil for a source of healthy fat, this meal is easy to throw together when you don’t feel like cooking, and total comfort food. Win win!
Scrambled eggs made appearances at both breakfast and lunch. They’re a quick/easy protein, soft, and topping with salsa doesn’t just up the flavor factor, but also adds a little extra veggies and vitamins. Every bit helps!
PBJ yogurt! I had the surgery on a Friday, and after my first weekend of healing was over, this was my staple pack-for-work breakfast the following week. Plain Greek yogurt topped with a small spoonful of strawberry jam, a larger spoonful of chunky peanut butter, a tablespoon of wheat germ (zinc!!) and a generous sprinkle of chia seeds on top. So delicious, I’m still continuing to eat this now that I have my chewing abilities back.
Just to be clear that I wasn’t powering through the recovery phase cooking everything from scratch: there was definitely a life-saving order of takeout pho. It’s the only ‘fast food’ I can think of built on a foundation of nourishing bone broth! I ordered extra and lived off this for the first couple of rough recovery days, when it was awesome to be able to just nuke a quick meal whenever hunger struck.
Annnnd just to be clear about one other thing, there was also definitely ice cream. Duh.
Some other healthy foods that I subsisted on but wasn’t cogent enough to snap photos of: whole-wheat fusilli pasta topped with a grass-fed beef and mushroom bolognese, fork-tender broiled salmon, this black bean soup, this broccoli cheddar soup, and a simple chicken ‘noodle’ soup with tiny star-shaped pastina that made me feel like a little kid again. Lots of good eating, and although I’m still waiting for clearance to start flossing again (as a flossing fanatic I’M GOING CRAZY OVER HERE!) I’m pretty much back to normal now!
I hope this post will help other people trying to figure out what to eat after oral surgery. If you have any other words of wisdom, please share in the comments!