For most people, having a tooth pulled may not be the most pleasant experience in the entire world, but at least the pain is bearable. However, some people develop a condition called dry socket that can be extremely painful.
What is Dry Socket?
After you have a tooth extracted, a blood clot forms in the extraction socket. The blood clot helps protect the bone and nerves beneath the socket. If the clot is dislodged prematurely, the bone and nerves are exposed to anything that enters the mouth. This condition is called "dry socket" and can lead to infection and painful inflammation.
Dry Socket Symptoms
A dry socket usually develops four to nine days after an extraction, said Dr. Dale Salomon, an oral surgeon who practices at several Coast Dental offices in and near Tampa, FL. Patients with dry socket may notice:
A foul smell in their mouth
A nasty taste in their mouth
Increasing pain, often described as a throbbing that won’t go away
"Anyone can get a dry socket," said Dr. Salomon. "However, the likelihood increases for smokers, people with poor oral hygiene, and women taking birth control pills."
Dr. Salomon explained two reasons why smokers are more likely to develop dry socket. First, nicotine interferes with the body's ability to heal. Secondly, taking a draw on a cigarette can dislodge the blood clot that is protecting the empty tooth socket. Smokers should talk to their dentists and determine if there is a way to eliminate or decrease their smoking habit at least a month before surgery.
Just as taking a draw on a cigarette can dislodge the blood clot, so can sipping on a straw. You should also avoid sucking on candy or anything else that can create a suction.
The hormone estrogen also interferes with the body's ability to form blood clots. Dr. Salomon recommends patients on birth control pills schedule a tooth extraction when the level of estrogen is at its lowest, typically between 23 and 26 days of the menstrual cycle.
Patients with poor oral hygiene may have inflamed gums from periodontal disease, which can lead to complications like dry socket. Brushing and flossing properly, using a water pick, and conducting regular dental cleanings reduce your risk for dry socket.
Dry Socket Treatment
Fortunately, it is easy to reverse a dry socket. The dentist will apply some medication to the problem area, and the patient typically feels better within 15 minutes of treatment. Sometimes, a patient may need a second or third dose of medicine, spread over several days. There are also some over-the-counter medications that your dentist may recommend.
If you have any questions about dry socket complications, be sure to ask your dentist.
Dale Salomon, DMD, has been a practicing dentist since 1995 and is a member of the American Dental Association and American College of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons. He provides Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery services to patients starting at age 12. He is a native English speaker who is fluent is Spanish and knows some French and Russian. He practices at several Coast Dental locations including Carrollwood, Clearwater, Largo, Newberry Square in Gainesville, Sarasota Crossings, South Lakeland, South Tampa, Rutland Plaza in St. Petersburg, Town ‘N Country, and Wesley Chapel.
Written by: Beth Gaddis
Reviewed by: Dale Salomon, DMD
Reviewed by: Charbel Klaib, DMD
Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD