dry socketMany people fear the experience of having a tooth removed. They worry that it will hurt, and that it will be scary. For most people, however, a tooth extraction is not traumatic. Dentists know how to do it without pain, and they manage it quickly and without complications. Once in awhile, though, a patient who has had a tooth removed will experience what is called dry socket. 

What Is Dry Socket?

The medical term for it is alveolar osteitis which means an inflammation of the alveolar bone, a part of the upper or lower jaw bone. This condition occurs when a blood clot fails to form or is lost from the socket, leaving the bone exposed in the mouth. Often food and other debris may become lodged in the socket, and frequently dry socket will occur when a smoker has a tooth removed, but does not refrain from smoking until full healing has occurred. Other people at greater risk for developing dry socket after a tooth extraction include women on birth control, people with poor oral hygiene or a history of dry socket, and patients who are getting wisdom teeth removed. 

What does dry socket feel like? It can be quite painful, typically a dull, throbbing pain in the area where the tooth was, potentially radiating out to other parts of the face and neck including the ears, temples, and eyes. Remember it’s bare bone and nerve exposed to anything in your mouth. This pain commonly presents two to four days after the tooth extraction and can last over a month if it goes untreated. Unfortunately, over-the-counter pain relief medications often don’t neutralize or relieve it completely.

Other symptoms of dry socket include bad breath (halitosis) and a bad taste in the mouth. If you experience these along with pain after a tooth extraction, dry socket is likely your problem. 

What helps? In order to relieve the pain and speed healing, your dentist will recommend pain killers in addition to cleaning of the tooth socket, often daily, and packing it with a medicated dressing. When the pain ebbs, the dentist will discontinue the dressings so healing can occur faster. Your dentist may also recommend that you rinse your mouth carefully with saline water as well. 

Fortunately, most people have their teeth extracted without experiencing dry socket, and the odds of avoiding it go up if you maintain your oral health, do not smoke, and do not use a straw to drink or rinse excessively after the extraction. 

If you have any further questions about tooth extractions, dry socket, or maintaining good oral health, please call your dentist or ask during your next routine teeth cleaning.