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Dry socket: Symptoms and treatment

Dry socket is a complication of having a tooth extracted, especially wisdom teeth.

Dry socket is also known as alveolar osteitis and happens where a blood clot fails to develop in the tooth socket as a normal part of healing, or if the blood clot is dislodged.

Dry socket can cause an aching, throbbing pain in the gum or jaw.

There may also be a bad smell or taste coming from the tooth socket.

Dry socket needs to be treated by a dentist.

What is dry socket?

The socket is the hole in the bone where the tooth has been removed. After a tooth is pulled, a blood clot forms in the socket to protect the bone and nerves underneath. Sometimes that clot can become dislodged or dissolve a couple of days after the extraction. That leaves the bone and nerve exposed to air, food, fluid and anything else that enters the mouth. This can lead to infection and severe pain that can last for five or six days.

Who is likely to get dry socket?

Some people may be more likely to get dry socket after having a tooth extracted. This includes people who:

  • Smoke
  • Have poor oral hygiene
  • Have wisdom teeth removed
  • Have greater than usual trauma during the tooth extraction surgery
  • Use contraceptive pills
  • Have a history of dry socket after having teeth extracted

Rinsing and spitting a lot or drinking through a straw after having a tooth extracted also can increase your risk of getting dry socket.

What are the symptoms of dry socket?

If you look into the site where the tooth was removed, you'll probably see a dry looking socket. Instead of a blood clot, there will just be bone. The pain typically starts about two days after the tooth was extracted. Over time it becomes more severe and can radiate to your ear.

Other symptoms of dry socket include bad breath and an unpleasant smell and taste in your mouth.

How is dry socket treated?

You can take a painkiller to ease the discomfort – ask your dentist for advice. Sometimes these over-the-counter medications aren't enough to relieve the pain. When that's the case, your doctor or dentist may recommend a stronger medication or recommend a nerve block.

Your dentist will clean the tooth socket, removing any debris from the hole, and then fill the socket with a medicated piece of gauze or a special paste to promote healing. You'll probably have to come back to the dentist's surgery every day for a dressing change until the socket starts to heal and your pain lessens.

Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to prevent the socket from becoming infected. To care for the dry socket at home, your dentist may recommend that you rinse with salt water or a special mouthwash every day.

Your dentist will wait until the dry socket has healed, which can take up to two weeks, before placing dental implants.

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