You’ve had a tooth extraction procedure done and everything seems to have gone well. Then, you start to feel some discomfort in the area where the tooth used to be. It starts with a throbbing in your mouth. The pain begins to worsen and you feel as if you are being stabbed. You may be suffering from a dry socket and you need to go back to the dentist right away.
What is a dry socket?
Medically known as alveolar osteitis, a dry socket is an inflammation of the area that the tooth lives in (the socket). Tooth sockets are found on the upper or lower jaw and keep our teeth in place. During an extraction procedure, the infected tooth is removed leaving the socket exposed. A blood clot should form in the area as our body starts to heal itself. However, should a clot not form, you’ll be left with a dry socket.
What are the causes?
A dry socket following tooth extraction has many causes:
- Smoking: The chemicals in tobacco products slow down the body’s natural healing process and contaminate the wound site. Nicotine decreases the mouth’s blood supply which could lead to a failure for a blood clot to form at all after tooth extraction. Furthermore, the physical act of inhaling can dislodge the blood clot (if it’s had a chance to form) and cause you great pain.
- Straw use: Like inhalation, the sucking motion we use to drink from straws can also dislodge the blood clot. If you must drink from a straw following tooth extraction, sip carefully.
- Oral contraceptives: Some forms of birth control pills are so high in estrogen that they hinder the body’s healing process. Before your tooth extraction, your dentist will take a detailed medical history and ask you what medications you are on. It’s important to let your dentist know if you are using oral contraceptives.
- Wound care: After your extraction, your dentist will give aftercare instructions. If you do not follow these instructions carefully, you run the risk of getting a dry socket.
- Bacteria: A preexisting infection in the mouth can stop a blood clot from forming following tooth extraction. If you have periodontal disease or other bacterial infections like strep throat you could find yourself with a dry socket. Your dentist will not perform the extraction if they notice that there is too much bacteria in the mouth.
- Hormones: If your hormones are out of whack, it’s possible that you will end up with a dry socket. For this reason, pregnant women cannot undergo certain dental procedures like tooth extraction.
- Poor blood supply: People with bad circulation and poor blood supply will find themselves with a dry socket because their blood simply won’t clot after the extraction.
What are the symptoms of a dry socket?
If you do experience a dry socket following a tooth extraction, you may not be aware of it until a few days afterwards. Usually, two days after the extraction the pain will start. The pain will become so intense of the next few days if you don’t go back to your dentist that it will start to radiate within the ears and neck. If you look in your mouth at the extraction site and do not see a dark blood clot, but instead whitish bone, you have a dry socket. Other symptoms are horrible breath, an unpleasant smell from the wound site and an awful taste in your mouth.
What treatments are available?
At on the onset of dry socket pain, you should make an emergency dental appointment. In the interim, you can take over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol or Advil – as long as you don’t exceed the required daily dosage. You can also try gently pressuring a cold compress to the side of your face for 15 minutes at a time. Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater to ensure that no food debris is trapped in the socket.
During your emergency appointment your dentist will clean the extraction site with a special antibacterial solution. Then, a dressing may be placed in the socket with a dental paste to speed up healing and get rid of the pain. You may need to return to your dentist in the following days to have the dressing changed. In addition to this, you can receive a prescribe antibiotics or an anti-inflammatory medication to stop the swelling of the dry socket and kill any remaining bacteria.
It takes about a week for new tissue to grow over the exposed socket. You should eat soft foods while you heal and avoid smoking.
Dry sockets and the pain they cause do not go away on their own. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a dry socket following a tooth extraction, contact Dawson Dental immediately. If left untreated, a dry socket can lead to further tooth and gum damage.