After a tooth has been removed, a blood clot is supposed to form in the tooth socket (the space that once held the tooth). This blood clot serves as a protective layer over the underlying bone and nerve endings in the empty socket. It also provides the foundation for the growth of new bone and for the development of soft tissues over it.
If the blood clot does not form properly or becomes dislodged, a dry socket forms.
What Is A Dry Socket?
A dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis, is a painful dental condition that may result after a tooth extraction. It occurs when the blood clot that normally fills the socket fails to develop, dislodges or dissolves before the wound has healed, thus exposing the underlying bone to air, saliva, bacteria, fluid, food and anything else that enters the mouth, which can lead to infection and severe pain if left untreated. It is one of the complications that can occur from a tooth extraction.
Signs & Symptoms of Dry Socket
Normal discomfort after tooth removal surgery can include swelling and soreness, which should be manageable with over-the-counter painkillers and be totally gone within 3 days after the extraction. However, if a dry socket develops, you may experience the following;
• Throbbing pain that may extend to the jaw, eyes, ears, and neck
• Bad breath or foul smell coming from the mouth
• Mild fever and chills
• Unpleasant taste in the mouth
• Discharge from the socket
• Visible bone within the empty socket
• Severe pain within a few days after tooth extraction
Who Is Likely To Get A Dry Socket?
Not everyone who has a tooth extracted can develop a dry socket. There are some factors that can increase the risk of developing dry socket.
• Improper at-home care, e.g. rinsing vigorously too soon after the extraction and poor oral hygiene.
• Traumatic surgery e.g. the removal of impacted wisdom teeth
• Smoking and using tobacco products after tooth extraction
• Taking oral contraceptives (some have high estrogen levels which may disrupt the healing process)
• Having dry socket in the past
• Having pre-existing infections like gum disease
Is It Possible To Prevent Dry Socket After Teeth Removal?
To prevent dry socket, it is important that you follow your dentist’s instruction for recovery.
These instructions include the following;
• Do not rinse your mouth for the first day after extraction
• Do not touch the extraction wound
• Do not suck on a straw or spoon for the first few days
• Rinse your mouth gently with warm salt water twice in a day
• Do not drink hot or acidic beverages (they may dissolve the blood clot)
• Do not smoke or use tobacco products for at least 24hours after surgery
• Practise good oral hygiene • Avoid taking in food that may get stuck in the site, e.g. popcorn, nuts
• Visit your dentist for all scheduled follow-up visits
How Can Dry Socket Be Treated?
Treatment of dry socket majorly focuses on resolving the pain. The treatment options include;
• Flushing out the socket. This removes any food particles or other debris that may contribute to pain or infection.
• Medicated dressing. The socket may be packed with medicated gel or paste and medicated dressing which provide relatively fast pain relief and promote healing. The paste /gel can be removed and reapplied daily for few days
• Pain medication. An anti-inflammatory medicine is prescribed for the pain, e.g. aspirin or ibuprofen
• Self-care, e.g. rinsing mouth with warm salty water Although it is not a life-threatening condition, dry socket can lead to additional complications and therefore it should not be ignored. If you have any concern that you have a dry socket, see your dentist soonest possible.