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Dry Socket - How To Avoid Getting One

Updated on August 2, 2010

A dry socket is a fairly common complication associated with tooth extractions. It happens when the blood clot is lost from the socket after bleeding has stopped but before the clot has organized into new tissue. The socket is now unable to heal* and bare bone is exposed at its base. This, as you can imagine, can be excruciatingly painful.

*Well, it probably would heal eventually if left untreated but you would have a lot of pain over a long time.

It is normal to experience some discomfort following a tooth extraction but if the pain begins to intensify after a few days, you need to see your dentist as this is typical of a dry socket.

Why do you get a dry socket?

There are a range of factors:

  • You did not follow your dentist’s post-operative instructions NOT to rinse out your mouth for the first 24 hours following an extraction. It is okay to eat and drink during this period but you must be careful not to disturb the blood clot. To this end, it might be wise not to brush your teeth until the next day.
  • It was a difficult extraction – there seems to be a correlation between the difficulty of extraction and the likelihood of getting a dry socket.
  • You are prone to getting dry sockets. Some people just seem to be. As yet, we don’t understand why. 
  • You smoke. Tobacco smoke interferes with healing.
  • You are taking an oral contraceptive. Increased oestrogen levels seem to be connected with increased incidence of dry sockets. This may explain why women are on average 20% more likely to get dry sockets than men.
  • The effect of bacteria in the area – either from a dental abscess (probably why the tooth is coming out) and/or because you have poor oral hygiene. For this reason, it is sometimes considered advisable to have a course of antibiotics before an extraction.
  • Age. People below the age of 20 rarely get a dry socket. Probably, youngsters just heal better.
  • Location, location, location. There is a greater risk with lower teeth and the risk increases the farther back in the mouth you go.

Treatment:

As you can see from the list above, the best treatment is to avoid getting a dry socket in the first place. If you do get one, you must go back to your dentist for treatment.

The usual way to treat dry sockets is to clean them out and fill the socket with a medicated dressing. There are a variety of suitable dressings, some of which gradually dissolve in situ. Others need to be replaced by smaller dressings as healing progresses. Sometimes the dentist will numb the socket and make it bleed to establish a new blood clot. If the area appears infected, the dentist may also prescribe antibiotics.

The pain usually diminishes rapidly and dramatically in response to these measures.

For more information about how to keep your mouth healthy, trouble-free and beautiful for the rest of your time on the planet, check out my book:

Watch Your Mouth – An Owner’s Manual

You can learn more or get in touch via:

The Dentist in Town

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