What Is a Dry Socket?

March 25, 2021 | General Dentist

Dry socket (alveolar osteitis) is a condition that can occur after the removal of a tooth if a patient is not careful to prevent it. It can cause pain and discomfort, as well as a severe infection. Fortunately, dry socket is preventable and easily treated. Learn more about dry socket and what to do if you experience this condition.

What Is Dry Socket?

When you have a tooth extracted, the removal site will form a blood clot to protect the empty space and heal underlying nerves and tissues. Ideally, this blood clot will remain in place for the duration of healing, forming a protective barrier that prevents infection and other complications. Once your gums heal, the blood clot will disappear and your mouth will return to normal.

Dry socket refers to a complication where the blood clot becomes dislodged after tooth extraction. This can occur if you do something that increases the chances of shifting the blood clot, such as sucking through a straw, smoking or chewing hard foods too early. Dry socket is also more common with wisdom tooth removal compared to other tooth extractions, surgeries that cause excessive trauma and patients with a history of dry socket.

Symptoms of Dry Socket

The most common symptom of dry socket is intense pain a day or two after the tooth extraction procedure. You may have dry socket if you notice:

  • No blood clot visible; just whitish bone
  • A dry-looking opening
  • Pain that typically starts two days after extraction
  • Pain that grows more intense over time
  • Pain that radiates toward the ear
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Bad breath

Contact your dentist as soon as you suspect dry socket. Living with dry socket can cause unnecessary pain and impede healing. Waiting to talk to your doctor can also increase the risk of infection.

How a Dry Socket Can Impact Healing

Dry socket has a negative impact on healing after tooth removal. Without the blood clot in place to protect bone and nerve tissues, the tooth extraction site can take longer to heal. Furthermore, a dry socket can more easily become infected without a blood clot blocking out food debris. Dry socket can also lead to severe pain that may last for five or six days without treatment due to exposed nerves.

Remedies for Dry Socket

Visit your dentist right away if you believe you have dry socket. A dentist can flush out the socket and apply medication to help treat or prevent infection. Then, the dentist will use a medicated dressing or paste to protect the area and promote healing. Your dentist can prescribe medications to help with the pain, as well as a special mouthwash to keep the area clean. Most patients who experience dry socket are fully recovered after one week.

How to Prevent Dry Socket

It is always better to prevent dry socket than to treat it after the fact. Although only about 2% to 5% of patients develop dry socket after tooth removal, it can be a painful and uncomfortable condition that hinders recovery. Avoid the following actions to decrease your chances of getting dry socket:

  • Smoking or using tobacco
  • Rinsing your mouth or spitting a lot (especially in the first 24 hours)
  • Using a straw
  • Eating foods that require sucking, such a soup
  • Eating hard or crunchy foods
  • Eating sticky foods
  • Using a medication that may prevent a blood clot from forming (including birth control pills, according to some studies)
  • Failing to maintain proper oral hygiene

One of the most common reasons dry socket occurs is patients ignoring advice from their dentists or trying to rush the healing process. It is important to obey your dentist’s treatment plan and recommendations to the letter after tooth extraction. Your dentist will give you specific advice on how to prevent dry socket.

For more information about dry socket and tooth extractions, contact Dental on Central to speak to a knowledgeable professional.