Dry Socket: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Dry Socket: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


It is never particularly pleasant to have a tooth extracted, and most people anticipate feeling a little bit of discomfort of following this procedure. However most people will find any symptoms generally disappear within a few days, but a tiny percentage of between 2% and 5% will go on to develop a condition called dry socket. Dry socket or alveolar osteitis is an unpleasant condition that can be pretty uncomfortable or even quite painful, but luckily it is fairly easy to treat.

What Causes Dry Socket?

Whenever you have a tooth extracted it leaves behind a hole in the bone which is called the socket. When the tooth is removed a blood clot should form in this socket and its formation is important for helping to protect the nerves and bone within the socket. Very occasionally the blood clot may become dislodged, and this can expose the nerves and bone to food and fluid in the mouth, to anything else that might enter the mouth, and to the air. This exposure can result in the socket becoming infected and can cause a substantial amount of pain that may last for several days.

Some people may be more at risk of developing this condition and this includes people who:

  • Have had their wisdom teeth extracted
  • Who don't pay sufficient attention to their oral hygiene
  • Smoke
  • Have previously developed dry socket after having teeth extracted
  • Who are using birth control pills
  • Have current or have had previous infections near the tooth that has been extracted

The risk of developing this condition is also increased in people who are in the habit of spitting a lot, or who like to drink through a straw. Dry socket may also be caused due to bacterial contamination of the extraction site, or sometimes it may occur if the extraction has been particularly difficult and if any small fragments of root or bone have been left in the socket following extraction.

Symptoms that May Indicate Dry Socket

The major symptom of dry sockets is feeling intense pain which usually begins a couple of days after the tooth extracted. This pain can continue to intensify and can radiate out from the extraction site. Other typical symptoms include noticing an unpleasant taste or having bad breath. If you think you may have a dry socket it's worth taking a look at the extraction site, as it might be possible to see the bone that should normally be covered with a protective blood clot. It's also possible that the lymph nodes in your neck may begin to swell up. Although it's common to feel a certain amount of discomfort after a tooth extraction, you should definitely contact your dentist if your pain or discomfort is increasing rather than decreasing in the days following the surgery.

Receiving Treatment for Dry Socket

There are various treatments for dry socket, but the best thing you can do is to make an appointment to see your dentist. They will want to clean your tooth socket to help remove any infection and any other debris. They may well fill the socket with a medicated paste or dressing to help aid healing. You might need to return to your dental office to have the dressing replaced at regular intervals until the extraction socket begins to heal and you're no longer in any pain.

If you do have a substantial amount of infection then your dentist might prescribe antibiotics. They'll also give you advice on how to look after the extraction site to help prevent it from becoming infected. This may include rinsing your mouth with salt water solution, or with a special antibacterial mouthwash. If you have been in a substantial amount of pain due to dry socket and you should notice an improvement within just a few hours of receiving treatment. Dry socket can take up to two weeks to heal completely, and this may well delay any further dental treatment you have planned such as dental implants.

Preventing Dry Socket

Obviously, it's much better to try and prevent dry sockets from occurring in the first place, and there are several things you can do to make sure you minimize this risk. Smoking is thought to be a huge risk factor in the development of dry socket, so it's best to avoid any tobacco products for a few days before your tooth extraction, and afterwards while the extraction site is healing. If you take birth control pills then you may want to schedule your extraction for a time when you are receiving the lowest dose of estrogen as this hormone can impede the blood's ability to clot. If you are taking prescription medications it is worth checking with your dentist to make sure none of these will interfere with the way your blood clots.

After you have had the tooth extracted you should follow your dentists instructions on how to look off to the site as precisely as possible. Treat the extraction site gently and don’t rinse your mouth any more than you need to. You should also avoid drinking through a straw and spitting to minimize the risk of dislodging the blood clot.

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