Many people have teeth pulled at some point in their lives, and while it’s not much fun, the discomfort usually resolves within a few days. For some people, the pain doesn’t resolve, and may actually worsen due to a condition commonly known as dry socket.
Have you heard that term before? Maybe it sounded like a scary thing when you, or somebody close to you, had wisdom teeth extracted. Let’s delve into the truth about dry socket and maybe dispel some fears and myths!
Signs and Symptoms of Dry Sockets
Dry socket, or alveolar osteitis, is not as common as many people think, occurring in less than 6% of people following wisdom teeth extraction. Though dry socket is often discussed in relation to wisdom tooth extraction, it can occur any time you have a tooth pulled.
Dry Socket Symptoms
Unsurprisingly, it’s rather easy to tell if you have a dry socket by answering a few simple questions. You can generally tell by looking in your mouth, or having somebody else examine the area.
1. What does dry socket look like?
If you look at the site of your missing tooth you may notice an opening. Instead of a dark spot, you can see the white of your bone.
2. What does dry socket feel like?
It presents as pain that gets progressively worse as few days after the extraction. The pain generally covers the whole side of your face and may radiate to your ear.
3. What are other symptoms of dry socket?
You may experience bad breath and a foul taste in your mouth.
Potential Complications of Dry Socket
If you develop a dry socket, it usually lasts for a week or less, as long as you manage it properly. In extremely rare cases, people develop infections marked by fever and chills, swelling and redness around the site, and possibly pus or discharge. Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
What Causes Dry Socket?
Normally, when you have a tooth pulled, a blood clot forms at the site to protect the underlying bone and nerves. That clot remains in place to protect the tissue during the healing process. However, if that clot dislodges, dissolves, or never forms, it leaves the underlying bone and nerve exposed to everything that enters your mouth, including air, food, and fluids.
Risk Factors for Developing Dry Socket
Unsurprisingly, there are some circumstances that could put you at greater risk for developing dry socket. Some of the top risk factors for developing dry socket include:
- Tobacco use
- Poor oral hygiene
- Wisdom tooth extraction
- Unusual trauma during the extraction
- Use of birth control pills
- History of dry socket following tooth extraction
- Drinking through a straw or spitting a lot after the extraction
How to Prevent Dry Socket
There are no guarantees that you can prevent dry socket, but there are some precautions to help. Your best bet is to take extra care in the days leading up to your surgery and for at least a week after.
1. What Can I Do Before Tooth Extraction Surgery?
Before surgery, avoid using any tobacco products because there is a high correlation to developing dry socket. For women who take birth control pills, try to schedule your extraction for the time you get the lowest dose of estrogen. It’s a good idea to notify your dentist of other medications you take as well, in case any of them interfere with your blood’s clotting abilities.
2. What To Do After Tooth Extraction Surgery
First and foremost, follow your dentist’s recommendations for post-surgery care, especially with rinsing your mouth out. Avoid using straws and spitting for the first few days to ensure the clot remains in place. Other tips include:
- Avoid tobacco use for at least one week.
- Don’t eat foods that could get stuck in the site and aggravate it.
- Hold off on hot and acidic drinks that could make the blood clot dissolve faster.
How to Treat Dry Socket
If you develop this condition, your first question is probably “How do you fix a dry socket?” Thankfully, it’s not a complicated process.
- First, your dentist cleans the tooth socket and fills it with medicated dressing to promote healing.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers to manage your discomfort.
- Your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic to prevent infection and a special mouthwash to rinse the area.
- You may need to return every few days for dressing changes, depending on the severity.
Dry socket is not a pleasant experience, but it’s treatable, especially when you catch it early. It’s important to contact your dentist as soon as you suspect dry socket following a tooth extraction.