December 7, 2019
You did it: you finally saw your dentist and got that problematic tooth pulled. Maybe it was broken beyond repair, or maybe it was badly decayed. Whatever the case, you were pleased to find that tooth extraction is a much less painful and traumatic experience than you feared it to be. In fact, you’re already feeling so much better! Unfortunately, you’re not out of the woods quite yet. The first few weeks after your tooth extraction is when you are at the highest risk of a very painful complication called dry socket. If you recently had a tooth pulled, you need to know how to prevent dry socket and what symptoms you need to watch out for.
What is Dry Socket and What Causes It?
After a tooth is removed, a blood clot needs to form in its place. It protects the underlying bone and nerve endings as the gums around the extraction site heal. Dry socket develops if that blood clot is absent, exposing the extremely sensitive tissues underneath to damage and infection.
Blood clots can be dislodged when they are agitated by sharp, hard, or sticky foods, or when pressured by the suction of using a straw. They can also be weakened and dislocated by infections brought on by poor oral hygiene. Sometimes the blood clot won’t form in the first place due to medications that cause blood thinning.
Symptoms of Dry Socket
You will experience a small amount of soreness, swelling, and discomfort as you recover from your tooth extraction. This is normal and can be treated with over the counter painkillers until it naturally goes away in a few days. However, you should keep an eye out for symptoms of dry socket, like:
- Intense pain that lasts for several days after the extraction.
- Pain that radiates from the socket out to your head and face.
- A missing blood clot or visible bone in the socket.
- Bad breath or a foul taste in your mouth.
If you think you have dry socket, you need to call your dentist right away. They may treat it by rinsing out the socket, applying medication, or prescribing painkillers.
How to Prevent Dry Socket
A little forethought can prevent a lot of pain. Follow these tips to prevent dry socket:
- Protect the blood clot by eating soft foods.
- Reduce pressure on the blood clot by avoiding straws and soups.
- Promote healing in your gums by cutting back on smoking.
- Keep the treatment area clean of bacteria and infection with regular, gentle brushing.
- Talk to your dentist about avoiding blood thinning medications.
Even though dry socket is very uncommon, it’s important to do everything you can to prevent it. If you notice any symptoms of this complication, contact your dentist right away. Together, you and your dentist can help your tooth extraction recovery go as smoothly as possible.
About the Author
Dr. Kari Blankenship is a general, preventive, and restorative dentist based out of Dental Renaissance in Plano, TX. She is a graduate of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and regularly completes continuing education courses to stay up to date in the latest developments in dental implants, cosmetic dentistry, and oral surgery, including tooth extractions. If you have any questions about tooth extraction or dry socket, she can be reached at her website or at (972) 423-0880.
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