Dry socket, also called alveolar osteitis, is a painful condition that sometimes happens after tooth extraction. When a tooth is removed, blood clots form to protect bone and nerves in the hole that is left. If the blood clot dissolves it leaves nerves exposed and slows down the healing process. Exposed nerves can cause pain in the socket and surrounding areas and the socket may be at risk of becoming infected.
What Causes Dry Socket?
Dry socket may occur for many reasons and researchers are still studying the exact causes. It is most common after wisdom tooth extractions where the socket is especially large. The following may contribute to getting dry socket after a tooth extraction:
- Smoking/tobacco use
- Bacterial contamination
- Past history of having dry socket
- Tooth/gum infection near the extraction site
- Trauma during the extraction
- Poor at-home care like drinking through a straw and rinsing a lot
- Use of certain medications like contraceptives
- Having a condition that inhibits the healing process
Maintaining good oral hygiene, not smoking, and following your dentist’s instructions after a tooth extraction can all help prevent dry socket. If you are susceptible to dry socket and have had it before, you may be given a preventative treatment to help the healing process before you leave the office.
What are the Symptoms of Dry Socket?
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms after a tooth extraction you should schedule an appointment with your dentist.
- Pain at the site where a tooth was removed that is severe, usually occurring a few days after the removal procedure
- Visible bone and an empty-looking socket
- Pain or discomfort in the area near the extraction that may include the jaw, the side of the face, the ear, or other areas
- Swollen glands
- Bad breath/bad taste in the mouth
How is Dry Socket Treated?
Dry socket is treatable and you can get relief quickly by scheduling an appointment with your dentist. Often it is treated by a dentist or dental hygienist using a medicated paste to fill the hole. This paste includes ingredients that will aid the healing process, prevent infection, and reduce pain. An effective dry socket paste reduces pain almost immediately. The product dissolves as the socket starts to heal, and may need to be applied several times if the healing process is particularly slow.
Your dentist or hygienist may give you further instructions for at-home care including flushing with warm water and maintaining regular brushing and flossing. Antibiotics or medications to reduce swelling may also be prescribed in addition to the treatment applied in the office. It is always best to seek treatment as soon as possible if you think you have dry socket and follow your dentist’s instructions for at-home care to get relief quickly.