Lost Sense of Smell after Oral Surgery: Will My Sense of Smell Return?

Question: A month ago I had oral surgery, I had a frenectomy, tooth extraction, bone graft, and an implant. My jaw bone was shaved and I was not prescribed the standard pre & post-op antibiotics, so, unfortunately, I developed a jaw bone infection. I had severe facial & neck swelling from the infection and was in the hospital for five days. I thought my decreased sense of smell & taste was due to all the medications but now I am off all of them and no smell or taste has returned. I can only taste or smell a little bit of bitter. I can’t even taste salt. Is this nerve damage from all the facial swelling? Do you think my lost sense of smell after oral surgery will ever return? It is absolutely devastating not being able to smell and taste. I had been a person with a hypersensitive sense of smell, I would get headaches if smells were too strong and avoided perfumes and the soap aisle in stores. I can’t imagine living the rest of my life like this.

Thank you.

Answer: I just posted a response to a question about the loss of smell on our web site- www.nyogmd.com – under ask the doctors- and I won’t repeat the whole answer…

Your issue is certainly more specific- We don’t always know what causes the loss of taste and lost sense of smell after oral surgery. Smell makes up much of the sense of taste-
The smell fibers are at the top of the nose and we can lose the sense of smell because of nasal congestion (think a bad cold)- or from nerve damage- which can occur after trauma, infection, surgery, or from an unknown reason.

You should be evaluated to make sure you don’t still have a sinus infection which can be causing the former loss- certainly, that can be improved-

Nerve losses are more difficult to treat. The nerve can re-grow over up to about a year.  So there certainly is a good chance your smell and taste will return after an acute loss such as yours.  We have been suggesting alpha lipoic acid to help with this process.

You might also consider the use of topical theophylline nasal spray.  You would have to be in a study at this point, though, such as at the NY Sinus Center, as it is not yet commercially available.

R Pincus MD

NY Sinus Center