If you live in the U.S. you may have seen recent commercials on TV advertising a product called KT Tape featuring three time Gold metal olympic volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings. However, you may not know that Kinesiology Taping or KT for short has been used in several studies to see if it can help accelerate recovery after wisdom teeth removal.
Kinesiology Taping is an an elastic therapeutic tape that has been used to support injured muscles and joints and help relieve pain. KT is believed to improve the blood and lymph flow and remove congestions of lymphatic fluid or hemorrhages. In a study by Ristow et al. titled “Therapeutic elastic tape reduces morbidity after wisdom teeth removal—a clinical trial,” appearing in Clinical Oral Investigations (vol. 18, pp. 1205–1212, 2014) the authors performed a randomized clinical trial with 40 patients in two study groups, one with KT and one without KT, who had both upper and lower impacted wisdom teeth removed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon under general anesthesia in a hospital. The authors were motivated to see if KT had any affect on pain, swelling, and mouth opening. All patients in the study were perioperatively given a single dose of antibiotics and received ice packs in 30 minute intervals for 6 hours after surgery and instructed to take an anti-inflammatory medication every eight hours for three days. A certified taping therapist applied three strips of kinesiology taping to those in the group receiving KT before they woke up from the anesthesia. The tape length was customized for each patient and defined by the distance between the clavicle and the position of most severe swelling. The tape was gently rubbed to activate the acrylic adhesive and remained in place for five days.
The authors found that application of Kinesiology Taping significantly influences tissue reactions and the rate of swelling. The postoperative increase of swelling at day 2 and at day 3 after surgery was found to be significantly lower in the KT group than in the no-KT group. From other prior studies of swelling after wisdom teeth it has been shown that swelling typically peaks at day two after surgery. However, in those with Kinesiology Taping swelling was found to peak within 24 hours of surgery. Specifically the authors found the maximal swelling was reached on average at day 1.5 in the no-KT group and at day 0.9 in the KT group. The authors state this was likely due to KT’s thickness, adhesion, and stretch capacity which generates a pulling force resulting in skin convolutions below the taped area, thought to increase the interstitial space between the skin and underlying connective tissue, and believed to promote the follow of blood and lymphatic fluid.
In the study, patients were asked to rate their pain from a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (severe pain) and it was found that those patients with KT had significantly lower pain. However the authors point out that the study may introduce placebo effects with regards to pain and thus aren’t 100% confident KT is able to reduce pain. The authors also found that using KT caused patients to have their maximal mouth opening recovery more rapidly than in the non KT group. The authors also note that none of the patients were greatly affected by the use of KT (in terms of discomfort) but point out that KT could irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions in some patients.
In a case report by Henderson et al. titled “The Clinical Effectiveness of Using Kinesio Tape Following Wisdom Teeth Extraction,” appearing in the Journal of Physiotherapy & Physical Rehabilitation (vol. 1, no. 1, 2016) a 26 year old female had three impacted wisdom teeth removed under general anesthesia and then had Kinesiology Taping applied by a certified taping therapist after surgery using three tape strips. The authors believed the case report they presented supported the results by Ristow et al. mentioned above. The author state:
“Due to the tapings simplistic application and lasting duration for lymphatic drainage, the application following extraction is economical, yet takes a medically pertinent approach.”
In another study by Genc et al. titled “A comparative study of surgical drain placement and the use of kinesiologic tape to reduce postoperative morbidity after third molar surgery,” appearing in Clinical Oral Investigations (vol. 23, pp. 345–350, 2019) the authors performed a study on 26 patients who had both lower wisdom teeth extracted. Each patient was treated with a drainage tube on the right side and Kinesiology Taping tape on the left side. Due to the inclusion criteria of the study results from 23 patients were analyzed. A certified therapist applied five strips of Kinesiology Taping on the right side to each patient. No facial ice packs were used after extraction but an anti-inflammatory was given every 12 hours for 5 days.
In the study by Genc the authors found that a surgical drain was more effective than KT in controlling postoperative swelling and pain but the effects on mouth opening were similar. Patients in the KT group were found to experience significantly greater swelling and the extent of swelling on day 2 was significantly less in the drainage group than in the KT group. The authors also found that patients in the drainage group had less swelling than those in the KT group. The authors do point out that in some prior studies the usage of a surgical drain was found to add surgical time; however, they found no significant difference in surgical time in their study. Furthermore it is necessary for an additional appointment two days after surgery to remove the drain. In addition in some cases a surgical drain can lead to infection but this did not occur in their study. The authors also removed the Kinesiology Taping two days after surgery as they claimed this allowed for standardization since the drainage tube was also removed on the second day.
The bottom line from the studies above is that using Kinesiology Taping after wisdom teeth extractions may help to reduce swelling and pain, and improve mouth opening more quickly than not using it. Even so there may be better alternatives such as the use of a surgical drain, but the use of a surgical drain may incur additional costs due to an additional appointment needed to remove it and may carry more risks such as infection. To date these studies have only looked at a small number of patients so more studies exploring Kinesiology Taping after wisdom teeth surgery may be beneficial.