While dissolvable stitches can be absorbed by the body, they are NOT edible food because it is a medical grade surgical product. They're not meant to be purposefully ingested but if you do eat some of the dissolved pieces during a meal, it isn't harmful.
Can you eat dissolvable stitches?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the safety of just about every product and that includes dissolvable sutures. One of the most commonly used absorbable stitches is chromic gut and as per the FDA, its intended use is for soft tissue approximation only.
In other words, it is not classified nor recognized as food. That is despite the fact that it is made out of an all natural material, serosal connective tissue layer of cows or the submucosal fibrous tissue of sheep intestine.
Are they really made of intestines?
For the family of gut sutures, yes they are made of the intestinal linings of ruminant animals. Essentially it is very collagenous and fibrous in nature. These are the most common dissolvable stitches used for wisdom teeth.
It is due to the fact that it is essentially made from food that it can be dissolved and broken down by your body to be absorbed. As a matter of fact, the way it dissolves is the same, via proteolytic enzymes. That is how the all natural sutures from the gut family dissolves.
However, the synthetically made dissolvable stitches will dissolve via a different mechanism, hydrolysis. That is the long strands of the suture thread gets cleaved into smaller pieces using water as the catalyst.
Natural dissolvable stitches:
Synthetic dissolvable stitches:
Why can't we eat them if they're similar to food?
The recommendation is that you shouldn't intentionally try to eat absorbable stitches because of the long dissolving time. Essentially it takes too long to break down and digest it if you're trying to eat it.
Below is a table of the estimated dissolution times of various sutures:
Polyglycolic acid (PGA)
Polytrimethylene carbonate (Maxon)
Polyglactin 910 (Vicryl rapide)
If you look at the information from the table above, you can see that it can take anywhere from 21 to 238 days for some of the stitches to dissolve!
That is far too long and impractical for you to even try to digest it under normal means. You can compare that to how long it normally takes us to digest regular food. According to Dr Elizabeth Rajan, it can take 2-5 days for food to enter your mouth and leave as feces.
It takes 6-8 hours for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine.
It then takes 36 hours for it to move through the entire colon.
What we're trying to say is that you'll most likely have indigestion if you swallow the stitches since it takes much longer than 5 days for it to dissolve. However, if you swallow small dissolved pieces of the suture it isn't a big deal because most of it has been broken down.
Is it safe to swallow dissolvable stitches?
The harm from eating sutures comes from the fact that it takes forever to dissolve and also that it's treated as a foreign body.
Long dissolving time. The absorption time for it is significantly longer than for food. The most prominent consequence would be potential indigestion for weeks or even months.
Foreign body. The sutures are recognized as a foreign body by your immune system. This is why having them present elicits an inflammatory response.
Essentially having sutures in your body for an extended period of time can lead to complications.
Despite absorbable gut stitches being made from intestinal linings of animals, you shouldn't intentionally eat it. They take too long to dissolve and that may cause indigestion at best but the worst case would be an infection.
Our long island city dentists are not trying to scare you because if you happen to have self-dissolving stitches in your mouth, the small pieces that you do swallow should be relatively harmless!