young woman grimacing with hand to face due to dental pain

What is dry socket?

Want to find out more about dry sockets and what causes them? Dentek can help. Perhaps you’ve been told you have a dry socket and you want to learn more about how this has happened. Or maybe you suspect you have a dry socket but you’re not quite sure what the symptoms are.

In this blog post, we explain what the term ‘dry socket’ means, what causes this problem and whether or not it’s anything to worry about.

Read on to find out more.

What is a dry socket?

A dry socket, which is known as ‘alveolar osteitis’ in dental terminology, is a common complication of tooth removal surgery. Usually, when a tooth is removed, a blood clot will begin to form in place of the hole left by the lost tooth within around 24 hours. This clot plays an important role in helping the socket to heal as it creates a barrier so that food particles and bacteria can’t enter the empty space. However, when this blood clot fails to form, it’s known as a dry socket.

Signs of a dry socket can include:

    • an ache or throbbing sensation in your gum or jaw that intensifies over time

    • a bad smell or taste coming from the socket

    • bad breath

    • the sight of exposed bone where the blood clot should be.

If you have any of these signs following a tooth extraction, you should make an appointment with your dentist at the earliest opportunity.[1]

What causes dry socket?

As discussed above, a dry socket develops when a blood clot fails to form over the empty socket left by having a tooth removed. It’s not always obvious why this happens but it is more likely to happen if:

    • you’re a smoker

    • you’re over 25 years old

    • you had a complex or difficult extraction

    • you’ve experienced a dry socket previously

    • you don’t follow your dentist’s post-extraction advice

It’s important to adhere to the aftercare instructions your dentist gives you following a tooth removal to avoid complications like dry sockets. Generally, adults who have undergone tooth extraction are advised to take painkillers and use an antibacterial mouthwash. You may also be prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection.

You should avoid eating hot food or drinks until the numbness in your mouth has worn off. You should also stick to soft food only until you feel comfortable.

Patients are also advised to avoid rinsing their mouth for 24 hours at least after the procedure to reduce the risk of dislodging the blood clot. To keep the socket and surrounding area clean, you should rinse with salt water after 24 hours has passed and repeat this process around four times a day while your mouth is healing.

It’s important to abstain from alcohol for 24 hours minimum after surgery and to avoid smoking for the rest of the day at least, but for longer if possible.

You should continue to brush your teeth regularly but you should keep your toothbrush away from the healing extraction site at first to avoid damaging it. As it starts to heal, you can start brushing closer and closer to it. You can also continue using dental picks, dental floss and Orabrush Tongue Cleaners as usual, but you should be careful not to come into contact with the empty socket while it is healing.[1]

Is dry socket dangerous?

A dry socket is not usually dangerous as long as you receive prompt treatment from a dentist. Treatment tends to involve removing any food particles, bacteria or other debris from the socket and placing a medicated dressing in it to ease discomfort and allow the area to heal properly.

However, it should be noted that a dry socket can cause significant pain and, if left untreated, it can lead to delays in healing, gum infection and bone infection.[1]

How common is dry socket?

Fortunately, only around 2-5% of patients experience a dry socket after a tooth extraction. So, although it can be painful, it is an uncommon complication of tooth removal.[2]

To keep your risk of developing this problem as low as possible, it makes sense to follow your dentist’s aftercare advice. And if you think you may be developing a dry socket, you should see your dentist without delay to avoid further complications.

Resources: 

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/wisdom-tooth-removal/complications/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932271/ Mamoun, John. “Dry Socket Etiology, Diagnosis, and Clinical Treatment Techniques.” Journal of the Korean Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons vol. 44,2 (2018): 52-58. doi:10.5125/jkaoms.2018.44.2.52

Neil Kotak
24/2/2023

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