what is a dry socket?

What is a Dry Socket? Causes, Prevention & Treatment

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What is a dry socket? What causes a dry socket and how can I prevent it?

Imagine this scenario. You pay a visit to the dentist to get a tooth pulled out because you can no longer stand the pain. A couple of days later, you start to experience intense throbbing pain and a bad taste in your mouth.

Soon, bad breath sets in and you can’t understand why this is happening.

After all, you had a tooth extraction to feel relief but now, all you get is even more pain.

What is dry socket?

Getting a tooth extracted and suffering from dry socket afterwards is a nightmare for many people. 

Dry socket, also referred to as alveolar osteitis, occurs when your jaw bone gets inflamed following a tooth extraction. It is a relatively rare complication that happens in just 2% of extraction cases. But in wisdom tooth cases that have to do with third molar extraction may occur 20% of the time or more. 

Causes of dry socket

When you have a tooth extraction, a blood clot forms as part of the healing process. The clot does the work of protecting the underlying jawbone.

Dry socket occurs when the blood clot that is formed where your tooth was is lost partially or totally. There are times when the blood clot may not form, causing the exposure of your jaw bone and delaying healing process.

There are bacterial, physiological, as well as chemical, and mechanical factors that may lead to the condition.

Here are some of the causes of dry socket:

  • Chemical factors: If you smoke cigarettes, blood supply is reduced in your mouth. This can cause a blood clot not to form after tooth extraction.
  • Bacterial factors: Having an already existing mouth infection before your dental extraction may cause a blood clot not to form properly. Oral bacteria can result to blood clot breakdown, as well. 
  • Mechanical factors: If you rinse, spit, suck through straws, or drag in your cigarette aggressively, it can dislodge or remove the blood clot.
  • Physiological factors: inadequate supply of blood, your hormones, high jawbone density, etc. are some causes of poor blood clot formation

Are You at Risk?

Not every tooth extraction will result to this condition. However, here are some factors that can increase your risk:

  • Smoking and using tobacco
  • Gum or teeth infections
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Sucking on a straw after the procedure
  • Previous history of this condition
  • Failure to stick to dental instructions after your tooth extraction
  • Using oral contraceptives

Signs and symptoms of dry socket

  • Gray color at extraction site
  • Severe pain
  • Bad breath
  • Foul taste in mouth
  • Visible bone
  • Missing blood clot

An obvious sign that you have aveolar osteitis is if you lose the blood clot partially or totally. In this case, your jaw bone becomes visible with the surrounding tissue taking on a gray color because of a poor healing process.

Over time, the pain starts to spread and may affect your eyes and ears on the part of your face where the extraction occurred. In addition to these dry socket symptoms, you may also experience foul taste in your mouth, as well as bad breath, when food particles and bacteria begin to accumulate in the socket. Other signs include visible bone and missing blood clot where the extraction occurred. 

Diagnosis of Aveolar Osteitis

If you experience severe pain after undergoing a dental extraction, your dentist may suspect dry socket. You will be examined not only for this condition but for signs and symptoms of other related complications.

There may be a need to conduct an x-ray to confirm that you do not have a bone infection. The x-ray will also help to see whether there are any roots or bone fragments left that may be causing you pain.

What is the treatment for dry socket?

  • Dentist will clear the socket site of food and debris
  • Dentist may cause try and form another clot
  • Dentist will place an analgesic dressing in socket
  • Apply a special paste
  • Possibly prescribe medication for pain and inflammation

Symptomatic support is given as a part of dry socket treatment procedure. At first, your dentist will take steps to get any food debris out of your socket.

The dentist will probably agitate the site to form a new clot.

The next step is to use an analgesic dressing inside your socket to protect the bone. You may begin to feel relief instantly. At regular intervals, your dentist will replace the dressing while the healing process is ongoing.

A special paste is usually applied to the dressing and contains pain relieving ingredients such as clove oil. 

The dentist will also decide whether or not to prescribe pain management medications. Anti-inflammatory drugs as well as narcotics are most times prescribed for pain.

How to Prevent Dry Socket

Experiencing dry socket symptoms can be painful and unsettling. Knowing how to prevent the condition in the first place can help you. Here are some tips on how to prevent dry socket:

  • Avoid smoking or using tobacco and its products.
  • Avoid drinking through a straw for a while after extraction
  • Practice good oral hygiene so you do not have to get teeth extracted
  • Do your research and verify that you have a good dentist. This is one of the best ways to choose a dentist.
  • Use only medications that are recommended by your dentist. Some drugs can hinder the blood clotting process. 
  • Avoid hot drinks as well as alcohol and carbonated drinks
  • Rest and do not do do lots of activity such as sports
  • Be careful what you eat. Follow your dentists orders
  • Do not brush directly on extraction site

To further prevent dry socket, your oral surgeon will initiate some steps to protect you after the surgery. They may put sterile gauze into the area, ask you to use a certain antibacterial mouthwash, prescribe some antibiotics, and even recommend oral gel.

There are some other ways to prevent dry socket that you can adopt immediately after surgery. Get adequate rest and keep off sports or tasks that require a lot of activity. Stay away from carbonated drinks, alcohol, and hot fluids. Be careful as you eat so that the wound is not disturbed.

Good oral hygiene is highly recommended and your doctor will give you some instructions. Do not brush around the healing wound immediately after surgery.

Your dry socket will disappear after sometime if treated appropriately. Always keep in touch with your dentist and report any symptoms without delay.

Kelly Hancock, RDH

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