Dry Socket: Description, Treatments and Prevention

After a tooth is extracted, the body’s natural defense system begins the process of forming a clot at the site in order to start healing. However, if this clot is dislodged before the wound has completely healed, the condition known as dry socket ensues, causing intense pain and sensitivity.

Dry socket is a painful dental complication that follows the extraction of a permanent tooth. The pain arises from the loss of a protective blood clot at the site of the extraction, which allows the bone and nerves there to be exposed to air, food and liquids. Pain is most frequently noticed within one to three days following the initial surgery.

Symptoms of Dry Socket

While it is normal to experience some tenderness and pain following an extraction, patients with the following symptoms are advised to consult their oral surgeons immediately to rule out potential complications:

  • Intense pain at the extraction site within a few days of surgery
  • Visibly exposed bone at the extraction site
  • Visible loss of the blood clot at the  extraction site
  • Unusually bad breath
  • Foul taste in the mouth
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the jaw and surrounding neck area

Causes and Risk Factors Associated with Dry Socket

The exact cause of this condition is still in a state of research, though the following have been shown to contribute to dry socket in a substantial number of cases:

  • Trauma to bone and tissue surrounding the extraction site
  • Minute fragments of tooth or bone that remain in the wound, preventing it from healing properly
  • Contamination of the socket by bacteria or other external factors

Risk factors include the following:

  • A previous case of dry socket
  • Inadequate after-care at home
  • Gingivitis or other gum infection
  • Smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco

Treatment of Dry Socket

The treatments of dry socket are primarily focused on reducing pain and the likelihood of contamination in the area so that the wound can continue to heal naturally. These treatments include:

  • The dentist will flush out the socket to free it of any remaining debris and then pack it with medicated dressings. This process will assist in pain relief and prevent further infection.
  • Because many cases of dry socket do not react to over-the-counter pain remedies, the dentist will often recommend prescription medication to alleviate pain while the wound heals.
  • Self-care at home may include flushing of the socket with salt water or another prescription solution multiple times per day.

Prevention of Dry Socket

After an extraction, patients are given specific after-care instructions to prevent complications such as dry socket. These include:

  • Getting plenty of rest following the surgery
  • Drinking plenty of water to remain properly hydrated
  • Avoiding hot, alcoholic or caffeinated beverages for the first 24 hours following extraction
  • Abstaining from smoking or drinking from a straw, as this suction may interrupt clotting
  • Eating only soft foods

The most effective way to prevent dry socket is to adhere exactly to the specific instructions given by a dentist or oral surgeon following an extraction.

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