When someone has had a tooth extraction, one of the common complications afterward is to develop a dry socket. This is a painful condition that means that the tooth socket where the tooth came from isn’t healing correctly. It can be painful enough that it requires treatment to help to relieve it.
What Is Dry Socket?
When a tooth is extracted, the body forms a blood clot over the area where the tooth came from. This blood clot protects the area and keeps that section of the jawbone covered. When someone develops dry socket, it means that the blood clot either didn’t form or it came loose and was lost. Without that blood clot there to protect the area, the healing of the gums is delayed. It also means that the portion of the jawbone that would have been protected by the clot is exposed. This makes the condition painful and difficult for many patients to deal with.
Also called alveolar osteitis, dry socket is often diagnosed when a patient comes in because they are in pain after a tooth extraction. That’s when a quick assessment will reveal that there is no blood clot in the extraction area and that the patient has the bone exposed. Once this condition has been diagnosed, it can be treated so that the bone is no longer exposed and the pain is much better.
Why Do Patients Get Dry Socket?
There are many reasons that a blood clot could never form or be lost. Often, the body itself destroys the clot. This can be caused by inflammation, an infection, bacteria, or trauma to the area. It can also be caused by the estrogen in birth control pills. In reaction to one of these stimuli, the body can seek out the blot and get rid of it in the belief that it is helping the area. The best way to prevent a dry socket and exposed bone is to minimize the risk of all of these factors.
While this is a common problem, most people who have a tooth extraction do not experience it. It more commonly occurs when the lower wisdom teeth are removed, though it can happen with other teeth.
Symptoms of Dry Socket
The main symptom of dry socket is feeling pain after a tooth has been extracted. This can begin three or four days after the tooth was removed. This pain is steady and often presents as throbbing. The exposed bone results in an ache that can radiate outward on the affected side and may extend all the way to the ear. Other symptoms include tasting something unpleasant and having an odor coming from the area.
At-Home Treatments for Dry Socket
Patients who believe that they have dry socket should see the dentist right away to have it assessed and treated. Until you can get there, there are a few things you can do at home to treat it. There are over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, including ibuprofen, that can help with the pain and inflammation. Patients can also use a cotton ball to keep the socket covered. Rinsing out the mouth with warm salt water can also help with the healing process.
Dentist Treatments for Dry Socket
Once you have had an assessment and dry socket has been diagnosed, our team can help you to feel more comfortable. Relieving the pain is the main reason to treat dry socket, as the treatments usually don’t make it heal any faster. At the office, the treatment starts with the site being flushed by warm salt water to clean it and soothe it.
Then, the socket is packed with either a gelatin sponge or gauze that has an antiseptic dressing coating it. Sometimes, clove oil is mixed into the paste to help soothe the area. Every one to three days, the dressing will have to be replaced. This is repeated until the pain is gone. Once there is no more pain, the dressing has to be removed so that it can start to heal by itself.
Preventing Dry Socket
It’s important to take steps to try to prevent dry socket from happening after a tooth extraction. It’s vital for patients to follow the instructions given to them after the extraction. These instructions generally include avoiding activities that can cause trauma to the site as well as avoiding all tobacco products. Forceful sucking of a straw and spitting can both cause the blood clot to become loosened and lost.
For patients on birth control medications, it’s best to plan the extraction around days 23 through 28 to minimize the amount of estrogen on their systems. For everyone, it’s a good idea to get wisdom teeth extracted as soon as it is recommended by the dentist. Patients are less likely to have a dry socket if they get their wisdom teeth out before they become inflamed or infected.
When you take steps to avoid dry socket, you are much less likely to have this condition occur. That means less pain and more healing.
If you have questions or if you’d like to schedule an appointment, call DFW Oral Surgeons today!