Dry Socket

What is Dry Socket?

Dry socket, medically known as alveolar osteitis, is a dental condition that strikes after the extraction of an adult tooth, usually three or four days later. The blood clot that normally forms after removing the tooth either dissolves or becomes dislodged before the wound has a chance to heal properly. This leaves the underlying nerves and bone exposed, making it a very painful experience.

As it involves adult teeth, the condition is not seen in children. Neither does it often occur in younger teenagers. The chances of experiencing a dry socket is quite low, less than 5%, and they are found more often in the lower jaw than the upper jaw. It takes about a week for it to heal enough that the exposed bone and nerves are again covered, and the pain will gradually taper off during that time frame.

What are the Symptoms of Dry Socket?

The main symptom of dry socket is severe pain in the area where the tooth was removed. This pain sets in suddenly after the initial discomfort of the tooth extraction begins to fade away.

Symptoms include

  • Throbbing jaw pain
  • Puss
  • Swelling
  • Bad breath
  • Empty tooth socket
  • Inflamed gum tissue
  • Foul taste in mouth
  • Tender or enlarged lymph nodes in the jaw or neck

Dry Socket Causes

A dry socket can occur when the wisdom teeth are removed, causing painful scabs to develop over the extraction area. Dry socket is when the area becomes irritated or lost and often the bone underneath the extraction area can poke out, exposing itself to food debris, germs and saliva. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes this process to occur, but some believe it’s the result of either trauma from extraction at the extraction area (such as with an impacted wisdom tooth), or from a bacterial infection of the socket.

How is Dry Socket Treated?

Dry socket is treated mostly through the use of pain relievers while the area heals over. Over-the-counter NSAIDs and analgesics assist in reducing inflammation, swelling, and pain. Topical antiseptics help minimize the chances of infection, and prescription antibiotics can be given to patients to prevent bacterial growth. Home remedies can that can also help include a cold compress, salt water rinse, and clove oil.

Avoiding tobacco and alcohol products will reduce the risk of developing dry socket after oral surgery.

Dry Socket Prevention

Preventing a dry socket is a simple as following your post-op instructions following the extraction of your wisdom teeth. Dehydrating drinks like alcohol, coffee or soda should be avoided for 24 hours following your procedure. You should also avoid using a straw and stick to non-solid foods like applesauce, yogurt, pudding, and smoothies. Avoid spicy foods or any food that causes irritation to your digestive system or leaves food residue in your mouth – such as peanuts, pasta and popcorn.

Cleanse your mouth thoroughly by brushing your teeth after meals and occasionally throughout the day. Afterwards, rinse your mouth with warm salt water or medicated mouthwash.

You can lower your risk of dry socket by knowing the risk factors. Smoking cigarettes or using tobacco in any form can increase your risk of dry socket because the nicotine in cigarettes causes dehydration in the mouth, which can lead to dry socket. Whether it’s cigarettes, cigars or pipes, it’s best to quit smoking to reduce your risk of this condition. Avoid smoking for at least 48 hours after your dental extraction procedure.

Certain medication can also cause dry socket. Talk to your dentist about which medications are safe and which you should stop taking. For instance, certain birth control pills can lead to dry socket if taken after a dental extraction.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 15, 2017