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A dry socket appears as a whole where the tooth was removed. It can look empty, dry, or have a whitish, bone-like color.
You may also see the bone that once surrounded the extracted tooth. The socket bone can be exposed entirely or covered by food debris or clumped bacterial material.
When surrounded by food debris or bacteria, the socket can appear in various colors, including black, yellow, and green. By contrast, a socket with a blood clot that is healing properly should appear dark red.
After a tooth extraction, a blood clot forms in the tooth socket, similar to a scab. This allows proper healing and protects the nerve endings and bone under the removed tooth. It also forms a base for new bone and gum tissues to grow around.
However, when this blood clot dislodges or forms incorrectly, the bone and nerves become exposed. As a result, you will experience severe pain, inflammation, and delayed healing.
Dry socket occurs in approximately 1 to 5% of all extractions and up to 38% of wisdom tooth extractions. They commonly develop in:
Dry socket pain typically begins within the first 2 to 4 days after extraction, and it can last several weeks.
The following symptoms a few days after a tooth extraction can indicate a dry socket:
If you had a tooth extracted more than a week ago and haven’t experienced this kind of pain, the clot has probably already begun to heal. This means you’re unlikely to develop a dry socket.
A dry socket forms when the blood clot does not form, dissolve, or dislodge before the extraction site heals. According to Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth's in-house dentists, "the highest risk for dry socket is within the first 4 days after surgery."
Risk factors associated with dry sockets include:
If you begin to experience symptoms of a dry socket, contact your dentist or oral surgeon as soon as possible. They'll clean out the socket, speeding up the healing process. Antibiotics are only prescribed when there is a verifiable infection at the surgery site.
This is the general process of dry socket treatment:
Your dentist or oral surgeon will numb you. They will then clean the dry socket and flush out any food, debris, and bacteria around the extraction site.
They'll use sterile saline (saltwater) to clean the extraction site and scrape the socket to promote blood flow. Lastly, they will curette the site to help a blood clot form.
They will fill the socket with a medicated dressing or special paste. This helps prevent new food particles and debris from entering the tooth socket. It also provides additional pain relief.
After placing the dressing, you'll need to visit your dentist regularly. They'll change the dressing for you during the healing process.
Post-surgery, your dentist may prescribe the following to assist with healing:
You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen.
Rinse your mouth with salt water a few times daily to flush out bacteria and food particles. Most mouthwashes are too harsh for extraction sites and contain alcohol, which increases the risk of dry socket formation.
Call your dentist immediately if the pain does not improve with pain relievers or if you develop swelling or pus in the area. This can be a sign of a more serious infection.
To care for a dry socket at home, you should:
Oral antibiotics do not significantly decrease the risk of dry sockets because there are hundreds of bacteria types in the mouth. Because of that, you can still develop a dry socket even with good oral hygiene.
Don't brush the extraction site for at least a week post-op. Only gently brush the neighboring teeth around the extraction site. The most important things to avoid are smoking, sucking motions, and drinking through straws.
Other ways to prevent dry sockets include:
If a dry socket is not treated immediately, the risk of complications can increase. These complications include:
Another serious complication of dry sockets is osteomyelitis. This is a chronic bone infection that may require surgical intervention. It is caused by infection spreading to the bone.
A dry socket (alveolar osteitis) is a painful condition that can develop after a tooth extraction becomes exposed and inflamed. This occurs when the blood clot protecting the tooth socket dissolves, dislodges, or doesn't form properly.
Dry sockets can result from different causes, including trauma, poor oral hygiene, smoking, and other medication. You can prevent it with proper care and following your doctor's advice after the extraction.
Symptoms of a dry socket can range from an unpleasant taste in your mouth to severe pain in the affected area. If a dry socket isn't treated immediately, it can result in serious complications like osteomyelitis.
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