Many people are nervous about having a tooth extracted, however most extractions can be performed comfortably using dental sedation and have no complications after the procedure. In fact, the most common tooth extraction complication, known as a dry socket, only occurs in about 2-5% of tooth extractions. However, some studies suggest this number is closer to 30% when extracting molars such as wisdom teeth. While the majority of patients who have a tooth extracted will not experience a dry socket, here’s what you need to know if you develop a dry socket:
Dry Socket Definition
To understand what a dry socket is, we first need to understand how the body responds to a tooth extraction. In normal cases, the body will form a protective blood clot over the extraction site to protect the empty tooth socket. When this clot does not form or when it gets dislodged, that is known as a dry socket. Without the protective blood clot, the underlying tissues, nerve endings, and bone are all exposed. This causes the bone around the tooth socket to become inflamed and is known by dentists as alveolar osteitis.
Dry Socket Symptoms
The primary symptom associated with dry sockets is moderate to severe pain after a tooth extraction. While it is normal to experience some discomfort following a tooth extraction, this discomfort is usually minimal and can be controlled with over the counter medications. A deep, throbbing pain or pain that cannot be managed with over the counter medications indicates the presence of a dry socket is likely. A foul odor coming from the mouth or a foul taste in the mouth is another sign. In some cases, patients can even see exposed bone when looking in the mirror.
Dry Socket Treatment
Luckily, there is an effective treatment for dry socket. If you suspect you may have a dry socket, you will need to call your dentist and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. During your appointment, your dentist will evaluate the extraction site for signs of infection and to determine if a dry socket is present. They will likely clean out the empty socket by flushing it with water to remove any debris that has accumulated. The final step is to pack the empty socket with pain medications and gauze. Although this sounds like it would hurt, many patients actually experience pain relief almost immediately after this is done.
Dry Socket Risks
Certain people are at a higher risk for developing a dry socket after a tooth extraction. People who smoke are at a higher risk because tobacco slows down the healing process and can interfere with clot formation. Women are also at an increased risk, especially those who are oral contraceptives. This is because the increased levels of estrogen can affect healing, therefore it is recommended to have an extraction during the last week of the menstrual cycle. Finally, individuals who are having a surgical extraction to remove impacted wisdom teeth are also at a higher risk of developing a dry socket.
Dry Socket Prevention
While some cases of dry socket cannot be prevented, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of developing a dry socket. For starters, following your dentist’s postoperative instructions is a key way to reduce the risk of a dry socket. These guidelines generally describe the best types of food to eat after an extraction, as well as how to perform salt water rinses to keep the extraction site clean and free from infection.
Dr. Martin is a highly skilled dentist of 16 years, and a graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. During this time, he has placed over 500 implants and maintains his skills by taking more CE courses than required by the State Board each year.