Dry socket is the common name for alveolar osteitis, which is inflammation within an empty tooth socket. To prevent it after a tooth extraction, a person should avoiding smoking, alcohol, and suction.

In this article, we explain what causes dry socket and how a person can prevent it. We also cover how to care for the mouth after a tooth extraction and when to see a dentist.

An x-ray highlighting wisdom teeth prior to their extraction, which may lead to the development of dry socket which a person may be able to prevent through cleaning the wound properly.Share on Pinterest
A dry socket could develop after a tooth extraction if the blood clot over the tooth socket becomes dislodged.

After a tooth extraction, a blood clot usually forms over the tooth socket. This blood clot protects the nerve endings in the bone and is a normal part of the healing process.

However, in some cases, the blood clot either fails to form or becomes dislodged. As a result, the bone and nerves in the socket become exposed. Dry socket is delayed healing, and it can be very painful.

According to a 2018 article, dry socket occurs in about 1–5% of all tooth extractions and 38% of wisdom tooth extractions.

A person should avoid doing anything that might disturb the blood clot after the tooth extraction.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a person should avoid the following:

  • Creating suction: Smoking and drinking through a straw can create suction. These activities could loosen the clot and delay healing.
  • Smoking: Smoking delays healing and also increases blood pressure, which can lead to more bleeding.
  • Vigorous mouth rinsing: People should take care not to rinse their mouth too vigorously. Rinsing the mouth is possible after a tooth extraction, but it is important to do it gently to avoid disturbing the blood clot.
  • Alcohol: A person should avoid alcoholic beverages or mouthwash containing alcohol for at least 24 hours to reduce the likelihood of the clot becoming dislodged. Alcohol can encourage extra bleeding and delay healing.
  • Physical activity: People should limit strenuous activity for the first 24 hours after the extraction to reduce bleeding and help the blood clot form.

It is also important for a person to let the dentist know about any medications that they are currently taking, as research has identified a link between certain birth control pills and occurrences of dry socket.

Tooth extraction aftercare

It is important to follow the dentist’s aftercare instructions regarding how to take care of the extraction site, as this will lead to a better outcome.

If a person has any questions that the instructions do not cover, they should ask the dentist. The specific instructions may vary among dentists, but they are likely to include the following:

  • Do not spit or use a straw for 24 hours following a tooth extraction.
  • Avoid chewing on the side of the mouth where the extraction took place to minimize the chance of dislodging the blood clot.
  • Do not smoke for at least 24 hours, ideally 48 hours, after an extraction.
  • Choose soft foods rather than hard or crunchy foods, as this can reduce the risk of damaging the socket and getting food stuck in it.
  • Refrain from drinking carbonated or hot drinks, as both of these could cause displacement of the blood clot from the socket.

How to clean the mouth

According to the ADA, a person should avoid cleaning the teeth that surround the extraction site for the day. However, they should brush and floss the other teeth.

The day after, a person can begin to clean the teeth next to the extraction site. They should also gently rinse the mouth with warm salt water after eating. People can make salt water by stirring half a teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of warm water.

The ADA recommend talking to the dentist about using saltwater rinses if a person has high blood pressure. People with hypertension may need to use warm water instead.

A person who has had a tooth extraction will feel discomfort, such as swelling and soreness. However, if the pain worsens or improves but then returns a few days later, it may be due to dry socket.

Other possible symptoms include:

  • blood clot missing from the socket
  • an aching or throbbing pain in a person’s gum or jaw, which can be intense and resemble that of severe toothache
  • an unpleasant smell from the empty socket
  • a bad taste coming from the socket
  • pain that radiates to the rest of a person’s face

Additionally, there could be exposed bone at the site of the extraction.

Potential treatment options may include:

  • irrigating the extraction site to remove food and debris
  • placing a medicated dressing over the socket to protect it until it heals
  • packing the extraction site with zinc oxide-eugenol paste to help reduce pain
  • taking other medication to help with the pain, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen

A person should make an appointment with their dentist if they think that they may have a dry socket. Treatment will help relieve pain and promote faster healing.

The dentist can also make sure that the pain is not due to an infection instead of dry socket. An infection can lead to more serious issues, and it may spread into the bone, causing severe swelling. If this occurs, a person will require oral or even intravenous antibiotics to tackle the infection.

A person should see a dentist if they experience:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pus from the extraction site
  • ongoing severe pain
  • persistent bleeding
  • ongoing swelling

Dry socket is a painful condition that can occur after a tooth extraction.

A person should follow their dentist’s aftercare instructions to minimize the risk of developing dry socket.

The dentist is likely to advise the person to avoid smoking, using straws, eating hard foods, and rinsing the mouth too vigorously.

If pain around the extraction site becomes worse or does not improve in time, a person should see a dentist for treatment.