August 31st, 2018
If you have gone through a past tooth extraction or have one coming up, dry socket is one of the first things mentioned in the recovery process. Dry socket can cause excruciating pain, not only localized to the mouth but other areas as well.
What is dry socket?
Dry socket is when the protective blood clot your body forms after an incision or extraction is dislodged and the abscess is exposed. People need tooth extractions for many reasons. Sometimes a tooth has become so infected that it is better to pull the whole tooth out rather than try to fix it. Or perhaps your wisdom teeth are causing you jaw pain and need to be taken out. In any instance of tooth removal, it is important you guard against dry socket.
After an extraction, the body naturally forms a blood clot to protect the now exposed tissue and nerve endings. It is very important to maintain this blood clot until your wound is completely healed. When this blood clot is destroyed or dislodged from the open wound, you may get dry socket. Anything in your mouth -- food, water, bacteria, even air can irritate and infect the sensitive area.
How to prevent dry socket
You can prevent dry socket by following your dentists’ or oral surgeon’s post operation instructions very carefully. Every case is different, and while the guidelines below are useful in general, sometimes extra steps will be necessary.
You are at a higher risk of dry socket if you:
- Have had dry socket before
- Use birth control
- Smoke tobacco
- Drink alcohol
- Have poor oral hygiene
- Take blood thinners or other medication that inhibits blood clots
- Have had periodontal disease or pericoronitis
Patients older than 30 years of age are more likely to contract dry socket due to their increased density of their jawbone. This increased density means less blood supply is available, and thus, blood clots have a harder time forming. This means your wound from an extraction is more prone to infection and dry socket. If you are a woman, you also have a higher chance of getting dry socket due to the natural hormone cycle a typical woman experiences.
When you have a tooth extracted, be sure to use any recommended oral antibiotics or antiseptic solutions and follow your oral surgeon’s post-op instructions on how to prevent a dry socket. Some of the most common guidelines are:
- No rinsing or spitting for 24 hours after your procedure
- No drinking from straws
- No smoking for 72 hours
- Avoid extremely hot and extremely cold food and drinks
- Avoid hard or crunchy foods such as candy, chips, pretzels, etc.
- Avoid alcohol for a week
- Limit strenuous activity for one week or until your wounds are sufficiently healed
What happens if I get dry socket?
No matter how well you prepare for your surgery and the number of precautions you take, sometimes you just get unlucky! Dentists estimate that 2-5% of their patients get dry socket after an extraction. What do you do if you are one of the unlucky ones?
Don’t worry, dry socket is relatively harmless in the long run as long as you treat it properly. Your dentist will most likely recommend the following courses of action:
- Take pain relievers as needed (over the counter or stronger prescribed ones)
- Topical medications such as numbing gels
- Flushing/rinsing consistently to your dentist’s orders
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid drinking
- Avoid sugary drinks
- Avoid drinking through straws
If you get dry socket, be prepared to go through pain management until your wound has healed; tissue takes anywhere from 7-10 days to regrow. There are no long term worries or effects from dry socket...once the tissue has healed, you are good to go!