Dry socket (alveolar osteitis) is a painful dental condition that can occur after you have a permanent adult tooth extracted. Dry socket is the most common complication following tooth extractions, such as the removal of impacted wisdom teeth. If you develop dry socket, the pain usually begins three to four days after your tooth is removed.
Normally, a blood clot forms at the site of a tooth extraction. This blood clot serves as a protective layer over the underlying bone and nerve endings in the empty tooth socket. The clot also provides the foundation for the growth of new bone and for the development of soft tissue over the clot.
Dry socket occurs when the blood clot at the site of the tooth extraction has been dislodged or has dissolved before the wound has healed. Exposure of the underlying bone and nerves results in intense pain, not only in the socket but also along the nerves radiating to the side of your face.
Over-the-counter medications alone won't be enough to treat dry socket pain. Your dentist or oral surgeon can provide treatments to relieve your pain and promote healing.
Signs and symptoms of dry socket may include:
When to see a doctor
The precise cause of dry socket remains the subject of study. Researchers suspect that several issues may be at play, including:
Factors that can increase your risk of developing dry socket include:
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon as soon as possible when you develop new or worsening pain after a tooth extraction.
Some basic questions to ask include:
In addition to the questions you've prepared in advance, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment whenever you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Severe pain following a tooth extraction is often enough for your dentist or oral surgeon to suspect dry socket. Your dentist or oral surgeon also will ask about any other symptoms and examine your mouth. He or she will check to see if you have a blood clot in your tooth socket and whether you have exposed bone.
You may need to have X-rays taken of your mouth and teeth to rule out other conditions, such as a bone infection (osteomyelitis).
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of dry socket focuses on reducing symptoms, particularly pain. Dry socket treatment may include:
Once treatment is started, you may begin to feel some pain relief in just a few hours. Pain and other symptoms should continue to improve and will likely be gone within a few days.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Dry socket rarely results in infection or serious complications. But getting the pain under control is a top priority. You can help promote healing and reduce symptoms during treatment of dry socket by following your dentist's instructions for self-care after your tooth extraction. You'll likely be told to:
Keep scheduled appointments with your dentist or oral surgeon for dressing changes and other care. If your pain returns or worsens before your next scheduled appointment, call your provider.
Your dentist or oral surgeon will take a number of steps to ensure proper healing of the socket and to prevent dry socket. You'll be instructed on steps you can take to prevent the complication.
What your dentist or oral surgeon may do
What you can do before surgery
What you can do after surgery
Last Updated: 2013-07-16
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