If you are intending to get an extraction soon, it’s best to know what to expect after the treatment. Of course, your dentist or oral surgeon will take the best care but you can also help the healing process after the procedure.
What is a Dry Socket?
Dry sockets are a possible complication after an extraction but they are not inevitable. Only 2-5% of people who get their teeth extracted will experience a dry socket. When a tooth is extracted, there is a hole left in the gum and bone, which is called a socket. Your body will naturally try and heal this area by producing a blood clot in this socket (which will stop bleeding as well as stimulate bone healing in that area). However, if the blood clot is dislodged, it will leave a dry socket where the bone is exposed to anything entering the mouth, whether it is food, drink, or even air. The pain of a dry socket will appear two to five days after the extraction (compared to the normal pain from the extraction, which will peak and wane within 24 hours of the extraction).
How do You Know if You have a Dry Socket?
Dry sockets are extremely painful because the nerve is directly exposed. You can identify a dry socket if you look into the socket and you see the bone exposed as well as a grey discolouration of the gum around the socket (due to lack of blood supply in the area).
The pain will radiate to other parts of your head such as your ear or eye on the corresponding side of the face. You may also experience halitosis (bad breath) or a bad taste in your mouth (possibly due to food packing or pus).
What Causes Dry Sockets?
Bacterial: infection already existing in the mouth prior to extraction (such as gum disease) – the bacteria will break down the blood clot
Chemical: Nicotine (found in cigarettes or any other means) will encourage a decrease of the blood supply in the mouth, therefore a blood clot will be unlikely to form in the socket
Mechanical: any sucking in the mouth (by dragging on a cigarette, sucking through a straw, etc.) or aggressive rinsing or spitting will dislodge the blood clot
- Women are more susceptible to developing blood clots due to the hormones produced during the menstrual cycle or the use of contraceptives
- The jawbone becomes denser over time resulting in less blood supply. Therefore, people over 30 have an increased risk of a blood clot not forming in the socket
How can Dry Sockets be Prevented?
Good oral hygiene: before the procedure, make sure you brush and floss your teeth properly twice a day, taking care of both your gums and teeth
- Smoking, at least within the first 24 hours, if not a week, after your extraction
- Touching the socket (with your toothbrush, tongue, or food)
- Eating on the corresponding side of your mouth
- Carbonated drinks
- Eating hard food or anything that leaves food remnants/particles in the mouth (like popcorn or peanuts)
Timing: women can request having the extraction performed during the menstrual period or on the day with the lowest dose of estrogen (if taking contraceptives)
What to do if a Dry Socket Forms
If you do experience a dry socket, go to your dentist or oral surgeon straight away. They will irrigate the socket to clean it out and then pack it with dry socket paste. If there is pus coming out of the socket, your dentist may also prescribe antibiotics. A dry socket generally takes seven to ten days to heal; meanwhile you should continue to take it easy by eating soft foods and not aggravating the area. Above all, follow any advice your dentist or oral surgeon gives you, and remember to keep on smiling!