Dry socket is a complication that can arise after a tooth extraction, such as removing wisdom teeth. It is a painful condition that may need further intervention from the dentist.
After a dentist removes a tooth, a blood clot usually forms where the tooth was. The clot protects the underlying bone, tissues, and nerves as the site heals. In some cases, however, the blood clot does not form or becomes dislodged, leaving the bone and nerves exposed.
This is known as dry socket, or alveolar osteitis.
With proper care, it is possible to avoid dry socket. If it does develop, it is a temporary condition that will resolve quickly with appropriate treatment.
Learn more about dry socket here.
Not everyone develops dry socket after a tooth extraction. Dentists are not sure about what causes it, but some experts say that certain factors may increase the risk.
- using chewing tobacco
- using birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy
- not following care instructions after the tooth extraction
- having poor oral hygiene
- experiencing infections in the gum or teeth around the extraction site
- having had dry socket in the past
- using a drinking straw after the tooth extraction
The symptoms of dry socket can vary but may include:
- severe pain at the site of the extraction
- a missing blood clot at the extraction site
- visible bone at the extraction site
- a foul smell coming from the mouth
- a bad taste in the mouth
- pain radiating from the tooth socket to the ear, eye, temple, or neck on the same side
The pain may start immediately after the tooth extraction or within a few days. It can continue for several days.
Although a certain amount of pain and discomfort is common after having a tooth extracted, severe or worsening pain is not normal.
Anyone experiencing severe pain that does not improve after a tooth extraction should contact their doctor or dentist to diagnose or rule out dry socket or other complications.
A dentist or oral surgeon may suspect dry socket if a person has severe pain following a tooth extraction. However, they will also examine the person for signs of any other complications.
If appropriate, they may recommend an X-ray to rule out a bone infection or to see if fragments of the bone or roots of the extracted tooth remain.
The main aim of treatment for dry socket is pain management. The following sections will look at some treatment options in more detail.
In the clinic
A dentist may do the following to help a person manage the symptoms:
- flush the socket to remove any irritating debris
- pack the socket with medicated dressings
- prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen
After the dentist or oral surgeon treats dry socket in the clinic, the person will need to continue with home care for several days.
Home treatment usually involves gently flushing the socket with a saline solution or medicated rinse for several days and continuing to take pain medication as needed.
Anyone with dry socket should keep any follow-up appointments with their dentist or oral surgeon to ensure proper healing.
Medical management of dry socket will help relieve pain and promote healing, but self-care at home is also important.
Lifestyle tips that can help a person manage dry socket include:
- not chewing or smoking tobacco
- rinsing the mouth gently with warm water several times per day or as the dentist recommends
- taking care when brushing the teeth around the affected area
- drinking plenty of clear liquids
- not eating foods that will irritate the area
- avoiding carbonated beverages
- using hot and cold packs on the jaw or cheek as directed
Quitting smoking can help protect a person’s oral health more generally.
Before surgery, a person having a tooth extraction can do the following things to reduce the risk of developing dry socket:
- Stop smoking or using other tobacco products, including chewing tobacco.
- Choose a qualified and experienced dentist to extract the tooth.
- Pause any medications that interfere with blood clotting if a doctor or dentist advises this.
Immediately following the surgery, the oral surgeon will take several precautionary measures to prevent dry socket. These include:
- packing the affected area with sterile gauze
- prescribing antibacterial mouthwash or oral gel to use following the surgery
- prescribing antibiotics, if needed
Back at home, a person can take further steps to prevent dry socket. These include:
- resting after surgery
- avoiding sports and other activities that may knock the blood clot out of place
- drinking lots of water and avoiding carbonated, hot, and alcoholic drinks
- eating only soft foods the day after the surgery
- taking care when eating to avoid disturbing the wound until it has healed
- avoiding any tobacco products for the first several days following surgery
- practicing good oral hygiene
- avoiding the area immediately around the healing wound when brushing the teeth for the first day following surgery
The person should also follow up with their dentist to ensure that no other complications have developed.
Dry socket is a painful condition that can arise after a tooth extraction. It happens when a blood clot does not form in the cavity to protect the exposed tissues.
Anyone who experiences severe or worsening pain after a tooth extraction should contact their dentist. They will take action to relieve the pain and suggest some ways to manage dry socket at home until it heals.