Dry socket is a rare complication that may occur after a tooth extraction. Here’s what you need to know.
Suppose you just had a tooth pulled, but the pain isn’t going away. You contact your dentist, who says you have a dry socket. What is this strange-sounding condition, and why did it happen?
Following a tooth extraction, a blood clot covers the site to protect the bones and nerves from irritation and infection. The clot appears as a dark-colored scab and promotes healing. However, you’ll develop a dry socket if the clot fails to form or is dislodged. Though exceedingly rare, dry socket can be extremely painful and delay healing. It’s good to know how to identify the signs of dry socket so you can get treatment as soon as possible and continue your recovery.
What does dry socket feel like?
Dry socket, or alveolar osteitis, refers to the absence of a blood clot in the hole where the extracted tooth once was. In some cases, the blood clot never forms. In others, the clot moves or is displaced. It doesn’t happen often. In fact, one study examined more than 1,300 dental extractions and found only 3.2 percent developed dry socket.
Smokers and women on birth control pills stand a higher risk of dry socket. But it can also occur after a complex tooth extraction, such as having an impacted wisdom tooth pulled. Dry socket may also develop after an extraction if the patient doesn’t follow recommended post-op tips, such as keeping a gauze in place and treating the site carefully for a few days.
While it’s normal to feel pain for one to three days after the extraction, intense pain lasting more than a week indicates dry socket has developed. The pain may be felt in your head and neck, and you may also experience an unpleasant taste in the mouth and bad breath.
Fever, pus from the extraction site, and swelling are additional side effects of dry socket. But the primary complication from dry socket is delayed healing. Instead of waiting for the pain to go away, see your dentist for treatment as soon as possible.
How is dry socket treated?
Although dry socket can resolve on its own without treatment, you should seek treatment if the pain is severe. Your dentist will examine the extraction site and/or take X-rays to determine if you have dry socket. Then, treatment can begin, which usually takes the form of:
- Cleaning the site. Your dentist will clear out any food particles lodged in the extraction site.
- Placing a medicated gauze on the site. This soft dressing reduces the pain. Your dentist can also show you how to clean the area at home and replace the gauze.
- Prescribing antibiotics. To prevent infection, your dentist may give you a prescription for antibiotics.
While treatment from a dentist is the best way to resolve dry socket, you can take self-care measures at home. Over-the-counter pain medication can alleviate discomfort, while an ice pack can reduce swelling.
Other home-care remedies include swishing warm water and salt in your mouth to ease the pain and kill bacteria. Dab some honey on a gauze pad to reduce inflammation and place it over the site. Steep black or chamomile tea in hot water, let it cool, and apply the bag to the area. Both teas have healing properties and can lessen the discomfort.
Preventing dry socket
Even if dry socket doesn’t happen often, you’ll want to lower your chances of developing it after an extraction. Here are some do’s and don’ts to prevent the complication from developing:
- Don’t smoke. Inhaling a cigarette can dislodge the blood clot. Tobacco also interferes with your body’s natural healing process.
- Do eat soft foods. Hard, crunchy, or spicy foods can move the clot out of position. Stick with softer dishes, such as yogurts and soups, for a few days after the extraction.
- Don’t sip through a straw. The sucking action can displace the clot.
- Do keep the gauze in place. After your tooth is pulled, your dentist will give you a gauze pad to cover the site. Keep it there for at least one hour to help the clot form.
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Schedule an appointment at Espire’s Mission Valley, CA, location today! Our highly trained dentists have performed hundreds of tooth extractions and will make yours as painless as possible. Don’t live near our Mission Valley, CA, office? Find one of our other locations near you.
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San Diego, CA 92108