In my oral surgery practice, I am frequently asked by patients and other dentists “what exactly is a dry socket”. I think it would help to define the definition and treatment of this ailment and debunk many of the misunderstandings that exist regarding this issue.
What exactly is a “Dry Socket”?
So, what is meant by a dry socket, what is your likeliness of getting a dry socket, what are its symptoms, and how it can be treated? More importantly, how can you prevent a dry socket?
Dry socket is officially called an alveolar osteitis. It is a painful dental condition occurring after a tooth is removed. Only a small percentage of about 2 to 5 percent people develop dry socket after extraction. It is treatable by a medical professional. Treatment of a dry socket requires diagnosis by a description of the symptoms and an exam. Lab tests and x-rays are seldom required. Time of resolving this problem is within days to a week.
In general, a dry socket most commonly occurs three to four days after an adult tooth is removed. The blood clot that should forms after removal is dislodged or dissolved before the wound heals, exposing the underlying bone and nerves. A dry looking socket or opening is found at the site where the tooth was removed. You may observe whitish bone instead of a dark blood clot.
The main symptom after the tooth removal is mild to severe pain. This is accompanied by a change in breath too. Alveolar osteitis or dry socket is mainly seen in age range is 14-60+. It is most commonly seen in more complex extractions and in the lower, posterior molar teeth.
What can you do prevent a dry socket?
Smoking is recognized as a contributing factor for poor health. It also is the biggest reason cause for a dry socket. The other reason is poor oral hygiene. Other common causes are having a wisdom tooth pulled, having a history of dry socket in the past, or even have pre-existing infection, use birth control pills and a traumatic tooth extraction. So, I suggest you to avoid cigars, cigarettes and any other tobacco products to prevent this problem and especially after your surgery. Check with your dentist and doctor about medications that can interfere normal blood clotting process.
It is recommended that you avoid straws and sucking after your extraction so the clot is not dislodged. Also, avoid strenuous exercise and lifting. In general, take it easy after any oral surgery and use common sense.
If you have a Dry Socket, now what?
Typically, your dentist will clean the damaged socket to remove any debris in the hole. The socket is filled with a medicated dressing/paste which you will have changed to assist with the pain and healing process. This is normally a sterile surgical gauze with a medicated paste to soothe the nerves. At the start, to relieve the pain, aspirin/ibuprofen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are given, or possibly a stronger drug is prescribed to ease the discomfort. The dressing will certainly relieve the majority of the pain though.
After the dressing is placed, avoid the intake of hot fluids for one to two days or even drinking through a straw and spitting for few days right after. Rinse your mouth only the prescribed number. While rinsing, I would suggest you to be gentle and importantly to never forget consulting your dentist in the follow up visits as scheduled. If you are not able to see a dentist, clove oil along the dry socket site is also soothing, but I strongly suggest you speak with your dentist first.
I hope this review of Causes and Treatment of Dry Sockets has been helpful. Although they are not uncommon, I find there is a significant amount of misinformation amongst many of my patients.