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What is Dry Socket?

Dry socket is a painful condition that can sometimes develop after the removal of an adult tooth. In fact, dry socket is the most common complication after a tooth extraction. Dry socket can be tough to treat with over-the-counter medications, but your oral surgeon can treat the pain associated with a dry socket. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing a dry socket.

The socket is a deep hole that holds a tooth firmly in place in your jaw bone. When you have a tooth pulled, it leaves behind an empty socket that exposes the bone and nerve endings that once supported the tooth. To protect the bone and nerves, your body develops a blood clot that fills in the socket and forms a protective layer. The clot also creates a foundation for the growth of new bone and the development of new soft tissue over the site of the tooth extraction. This clot gets transformed over six to nine months into bone. Dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis, can develop when the clot becomes dislodged from the socket too soon or disintegrates.

Symptoms of Dry Socket

Partial or complete loss of the clot exposes the bone and nerves to cause intense symptoms, such as:

  • Pain radiating from the socket outwards, sometimes radiating towards your eye, temple, ear, or neck on the same side of your face as the tooth extraction
  • Visible bone in the socket
  • Bad breath or a foul smell in your mouth
  • A bad taste in your mouth

The exposed socket may also fill with food debris and become inflamed, which can increase the pain and also lead to infection in the bone. Symptoms of dry socket typically develop two to three days after your tooth is removed.

Causes of Dry Socket

Researchers are still working to determine the exact cause of dry socket, but many issues may contribute to the development of this painful condition. These issues may include bacterial contamination of the tooth socket, trauma from a difficult extraction, which can happen with an impacted wisdom tooth, dense bone, poorly controlled diabetes, immunocompromised system, smoking and use of oral contraceptives.

Risk Factors for Dry Socket

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing dry socket. These risk factors include:

  • Smoking and tobacco use – the chemicals in tobacco can prevent or slow healing, or contaminate the wound site; the act of sucking on a cigarette may physically pull the clot from the socket and heat may damage the clot
  • Oral contraceptives – these medications can cause high estrogen levels that may disrupt the normal healing processes and increase the risk of dry socket
  • Improper at-home care – poor oral hygiene and failure to failure to follow home-care guidelines provided by your oral surgeon may increase the risk of dry socket
  • Tooth or gum infection near the extracted tooth

Understanding dry socket can help you avoid it. Please don’t hesitate to contact Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery with additional questions about wisdom teeth removal or this rare complication.

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