Dry socket is the most common complication of a tooth extraction, especially in the cases of wisdom teeth. After your tooth is pulled, a blood clot should form to provide a protective layer over the wound. This blood clot stops the bleeding and helps the wound heal. Dry socket is the result of this clot becoming dislodged, exposing the bone and nerves and delaying the healing process.
Not only does this painful condition lengthen the time it takes to recover, but dry socket can also postpone dental treatment to replace the missing tooth. Those who suffer from dry socket also have an increased risk of infection.
While it's normal to have some discomfort and bleeding gums following a tooth extraction, you should start to feel better within a day or two. But if the blood clot doesn't form or becomes dislodged, you may have increased pain one to three days following the surgery. This is often a sign of dry socket, which can also be determined by the following symptoms:
Some dental patients have a greater chance of developing dry socket than others. Providing your medical history to your dentist or oral surgeon will help him or her determine the risk of dry socket. For example, if you're a smoker, your dentist will advise you on when to stop in order to prepare your mouth for dental surgery. Any infections may need require tooth or gum disease treatment prior to surgery to decrease the risk of post-surgery complications. Women who take oral contraceptives are also more prone to developing dry socket, as high levels of estrogen increase the risk. If you're taking oral contraceptives, you'll have a better chance of healing if you have the surgery during the last week of your cycle, when estrogen levels are low. Also, if you've had dry socket in the past, you're more likely to get it again.
Preventing Dry Socket Syndrome
To help prevent dry socket, your dentist will recommend post-operative guidelines. These may include, but are not limited to, the following suggestions:
- No smoking before or after the surgery, as tobacco may contaminate the wound site.
- Be sure to tell your dentist about any medications you are taking, as they can interfere with blood clotting.
- Following the surgery, refrain from spitting or using a straw, as the sucking action could dislodge the blood clot.
- While you should maintain your oral hygiene regimen, be careful when brushing in the area. Use gentle brushing on any teeth located near the wound.
- Use a warm saltwater rinse to keep the area clean, but don't rinse your mouth too vigorously.
- Don't touch the wound with your fingers or other objects.
- Eat soft foods and avoid foods that could lodge in the wound, such as popcorn, peanuts or pasta.
Dry Socket Treatment
If you do find yourself in the three to five percent of oral surgery cases that result in dry socket, contact your dentist. Your dentist may need to flush out the socket to remove any debris and apply medicated dressings to protect the area. While this usually brings relief, your dentist can also prescribe medication to control the pain. In the meantime, follow your dentist's self-care advice at home, which may include flushing the socket on your own.
Now that you're aware of the possibility of dry socket, you can take all the steps needed to help prevent it. Remember, your surgery is being performed to improve your dental health, not to hinder it, and the chances of having complications following a tooth extraction are minimal. If you follow your dentist's instructions before and after surgery, you'll greatly decrease the possibility of complications like dry socket.