What are dissolvable stitches?

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For centuries, dentists and oral surgeons, plastic surgeons, obstetricians, urologists and even veterinarians have used stitches to close up gashes, cuts and surgical incisions. Now, many physicians are using some form of dissolvable stitches (also called absorbable sutures). The great thing about dissolvable stitches is that they can be used on internal or external wounds.

Stitches, dissolvable or non-dissolvable, have three features:

  • Thickness - Some stitches must be thin (perhaps for a simple cut or plastic surgery, or a wound that needs to heal with less scarring), and others thicker (perhaps for internal wounds where scarring isn't as worrisome, or so the stitch will last longer). To make a thicker stitch, more of the material is woven together. For a thinner stitch, less material is woven together.
  • Elasticity - Stitches on your knee need to be more elastic than those on your forearm, because your knee must be able to bend. Without proper elasticity, the stitches can snap and come out, or even tear the wound and delay healing.
  • Decomposition rate - A deep, wide wound will need longer to heal, so the stitches will have to last longer. Stitches can be formulated and strengthened to dissolve slowly or rapidly over the desired treatment period.

Dissolvable stitches differ from non-absorbable stitches because they are:

  • naturally decomposed by the body
  • temporary, and don't usually require a follow-up doctor's visit to remove the stitches or check on the wound

­To your body, stitches are a foreign substance, and the body is programmed to destroy foreign substances. Dissolvable stitches are made from natural materials, such as processed collagen (animal intestines), silk and hair, as well as some synthetic materials that the body can break down. This allows the body to dissolve the stitches over time. Usually, by the time the stitches are dissolved, the wound is completely healed.

Occasionally, a stitch won't dissolve completely. This usually occurs when part of the stitch is left on the outside of the body. There, the body's fluids cannot dissolve and decompose the stitch, so it remains intact. A doctor can easily remove the remaining piece of stitch once the wound is closed.

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