If you’ve recently had a tooth extracted, you are at risk of developing dry socket. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to treat or prevent this condition.
Plenty of tooth extractions go off without a hitch. After a period of discomfort, your mouth will begin to heal and the pain will recede. However, if your pain worsens after a few days, you may have dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis.
According to a 2016 study, the incidence rate of dry socket among the 2,218 people surveyed was only 1.8 percent, making it a relatively rare occurrence. However, it can affect anyone who has had a tooth recently removed, so it’s important to know the symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
The Basics About Dry Socket
After the extraction of a permanent tooth, your body should naturally form a blood clot to protect the wound in your gums during healing. If a blood clot may fails to develop at the extraction site, dissolves, or become dislodged, a dry socket may occur. Leaving your bone and nerve exposed to food, fluids, and air.
Symptoms of dry socket include:
- A lingering unpleasant taste or foul odor in your mouth
- Bad breath
- An empty-looking socket at the extraction site where the blood clot has been partially (or completely) lost
- A visible whitish bone at the site where the tooth was pulled
- Severe pain that begins two to three days after the extraction
- Pain or throbbing that radiates from your socket to your eye, ear, temple, or neck over time
While dry socket itself usually doesn’t result in complications, it may cause delayed healing, infection, severe pain, or chronic bone infection if left untreated, so it’s essential to speak to your dentist or oral surgeon as soon as possible.
Not only will they be able to examine the area to determine if you have dry socket, but they can also take some x-rays to rule out osteomyelitis (bone infection), the presence of bone or roots in the extraction site, and other conditions. Upon diagnosis, they can advise you on any next steps.
So What Causes Dry Socket?
Scientists are still determining the exact reason why dry socket occurs, but many suspect that bacterial contamination at the extraction site and trauma from difficult extractions are to blame. Improper aftercare, poor oral hygiene, wisdom tooth removal, and a history of dry socket or gum and teeth infections near the extraction area can also increase one’s risk of developing dry socket.
If you take birth control pills, the high levels of estrogen can disrupt typical healing processes, raising your risk of developing dry socket. Similarly, using tobacco products can slow or prevent healing. Plus, smoking can contaminate the wound, and taking a drag might dislodge the blood clot. Likewise, drinking through straws shortly after extraction can dislodge your blood clot prematurely.
Treating Dry Socket
When it comes to treating dry socket, there are several options available, including:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve dry socket pain.
- Cold compresses: In addition to taking over-the-counter pain relievers, you can apply a cold compress to find relief.
- Prescription drugs: If cold compresses and over-the-counter drugs aren’t cutting it, your dentist may prescribe a stronger drug. To keep your socket from becoming infected, they might also prescribe antibiotics.
- Medicated dressings: After cleaning your tooth socket and removing debris to prevent infection, your dentist may place a medicated dressing or special paste in the socket to encourage healing. When it’s time to remove the dressing at home, you can clean the socket with a saltwater solution or prescription rinse. If you have a severe case of dry socket, you may need to add a new dressing at home.
- Saltwater or prescription rinses: Your dentist might also recommend gently rinsing with a saltwater solution or a prescription mouthwash in the days following your surgery.
Around a week after your extraction, you will likely need to visit your dentist for a follow-up so they can examine the extraction site and make sure that your mouth is healing correctly.
Preventing Dry Socket
Research your dentist or oral surgeon to ensure that they have experience with tooth extractions.
Certain medications can prevent your blood from clotting, so make sure to tell your dentist about any over-the-counter or prescription medications you’re taking. If you’re taking birth control pills, try to schedule your extraction for the day with the lowest dose of estrogen, as estrogen affects blood’s clotting ability.
Also, let your dentist know if you have a compromised immune system, so they can prescribe oral antibiotics.
Make sure to adhere to your dentist’s instructions, as neglecting to care for your mouth at home can damage the wound and slow healing.
Rest and drink plenty of water — but don’t use a straw! The act of sucking can dislodge blood clots from sockets prematurely, so you should avoid straws and abstain from smoking for at least a week after surgery.
Avoid vigorous exercise, hard foods, hot, caffeinated, carbonated, alcoholic drinks, chewing on the surgery side of your mouth.
Instead, eat semi-solid or soft foods.
While you can gently brush your teeth and rinse your mouth after surgery, you should avoid irritating the extraction site for the first 24 hours while the blood clot forms. Once the first 24 hours have passed, you can begin rinsing your mouth a few times a day with a warm saltwater solution or an antibacterial mouthwash.
To create a saltwater solution, mix half a teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm water. Only rinse your mouth as often as your dentist recommends, over-rinsing or rinsing too vigorously can dislodge or dissolve your clot.
Attending all your scheduled follow-ups with your dentist or oral surgeon is an essential part of the healing process. If you have any questions between your follow-ups or notice any symptoms of dry socket, you can call your dentist’s office for additional information.When it comes to tooth extractions, it’s essential to have an experienced, trusted dentist.
Schedule an appointment at Espire today! Our dentists will work with you during the surgery and help you recover after it by providing detailed aftercare instructions and offering advice on treating dry socket, should you develop it.
Find one of our other locations near you.