What is a Dry Socket?

Mary McMahon

Dry socket is a common complication which emerges after a tooth extraction. In this condition, the blood clot which normally forms after a tooth is removed either does not form, or is dislodged. As a result, the bone and nerves at the extraction site are exposed, causing considerable pain to the patient. This condition sometimes appears spontaneously, and in other cases it may emerge because a patient fails to follow aftercare directions. In either case, the treatment for dry socket is very straightforward.

Ice packs may help alleviate dry socket pain.
Ice packs may help alleviate dry socket pain.

A typical tooth extraction is quite painful on the day of the extraction, with pain levels which decrease over the following days. The decrease in pain is the result of a formation of a blood clot over the area of the jaw exposed by the extraction. The blood clot promotes the formation of new tissue which will eventually cover the area, protecting the delicate nerves and bone. Dry socket usually emerges one to three days after an extraction, and it manifests in the form of extreme pain which may radiate from the jaw.

Dry socket is a complication that comes after a tooth extraction.
Dry socket is a complication that comes after a tooth extraction.

Activities like smoking, spitting, and drinking from straws appear to increase the risk of developing dry socket. Failing to follow the recommendations of the dentist is another risk factor, as is a history of dry socket, and women who take oral contraceptives appear to be at greater risk as well. Even with the best care, however, sometimes a dry socket simply happens. In addition to pain, the condition can be accompanied with an unpleasant taste in the mouth or bad breath.

It is important to go to a dentist to treat dry socket. The dentist will flush the exposed socket with an antiseptic solution, and then pack it with a medicated dressing to prevent infection and promote healing. The patient may be given oral pain medications and sometimes antibiotics if the site appears infected. Patients may also be given self care directions for flushing and packing the dry socket at home.

The formal name for this condition is alveolar osteitis. Whatever one calls it, dry socket is extremely common, and the pain is usually intense enough to send people back to the dentist for follow-up treatment. If the condition is not treated, someone can develop a severe infection in the socket, which could potentially lead to sepsis. Untreated dry socket can also lead to lost time at work, as many people have trouble working when they are experiencing oral pain.

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