After a tooth extraction, proper healing is the most important thing to prioritize — especially if your eventual goal is to get dental implants. Occurring in about 2-5% of regular tooth extraction cases (and more often in wisdom teeth extractions), dry socket can set back your healing significantly. However, dry socket is extremely preventable with the right steps. Read on to learn about dry socket and how to prevent it.
What is Dry Socket?
When a tooth is extracted, an empty socket is left behind. Similar to a scab forming when you get a cut on your skin, a blood clot forms in that space in your gums. When that blood clot is dislodged or fails to form, then the bone and nerves are left exposed as they heal — a painful and prolonged condition called dry socket.
Dry Socket Symptoms
The number one indicator of dry socket is a lack of blood clot in the socket, but this may be hard to detect on your own. While your first couple days post-surgery may be uncomfortable or slightly painful, if you’re experiencing intense pain in your gums or jawbone that worsens over time — and which may or may not radiate into other areas of your face — that could also be a good indication you have dry socket.
If you detect a bad smell or taste coming from the empty socket(s) from your surgery, this could be an indication that your dry socket has progressed into an infection and requires immediate attention. Pus, fever, nausea or vomiting, excessive or persistent bleeding, or ongoing pain and swelling are also all signs that should be reported immediately to a dentist.
Five Tips to Prevent Dry Socket
Luckily, preventing dry socket after a tooth extraction is simple, and fits right into your post-extraction care routine. Your dentist should give you an overview of the following steps:
1. Avoid Suction
The number one greatest risk factor for developing dry socket is too much suction, sucking on a straw creates negative air pressure that can dislodge the clot. Avoid using a straw for at least 72 hours post-surgery, and try to avoid spitting aggressively as well. Pro tip: when rinsing, let the rinse fall out of your mouth into the sink, rather than trying to spit it out.
2. Don’t Smoke
The second greatest risk factor for developing dry socket is smoking, so don’t smoke for at least 72 hours after surgery. The act of smoking involves suction, and the ingredients in cigarettes and vape cartridges can affect your body in ways that negatively impact healing. (For example, regular smoking increases carbon monoxide levels in your blood, which prevents oxygen from reaching healing tissues.) You should also avoid using oral tobacco products for the same reasons.
3. Eat Right
Crunchy, hard, or tough foods can easily dislodge a blood clot. Plus it’s just not fun to chew over and over after a tooth extraction surgery! Soft or liquid foods for the first few weeks will make your healing journey more pleasant in more ways than one. As you introduce more solid foods, try to chew on the opposite side of your mouth from the socket to avoid any dislodging, and try to avoid very hot or carbonated beverages for the same reason.
4. Keep Good Hygiene
Food particles can also prevent a clot from forming, so be sure to keep your mouth clean while healing. The first day after your surgery, you should avoid touching the surgery site or the surrounding teeth with your fingers or a toothbrush. Afterward, you may brush the teeth next to the surgery site, and rinse your mouth with a warm salt water rinse after each meal. Take care not to brush directly over any extraction sites, since that may also dislodge the clot.
5. Follow Dentist Recommendations
Your dentist may give you a medicated rinse to use, or instruct you to do additional steps to prevent dry socket. Ask questions ahead of time if you’re confused, and don’t be afraid to call if you need clarity once you’re home.
What to Do If You Suspect Dry Socket
Dry socket symptoms often start a few days after a tooth extraction procedure. Sometimes these symptoms are similar to and confused for the discomfort and pain that is expected after a tooth extraction. Gently rinsing your mouth with warm salt water may help alleviate mild symptoms. But, remember: the best home remedy for dry socket is following your aftercare plan to avoid developing dry socket in the first place!
If you’ve been experiencing worrisome symptoms such as pus oozing from the extraction site or a fever, or intense, radiating pain that won’t relent, don’t hesitate to contact your dentist. If your dentist is not available or his/her after-hours service cannot be reached, you should consider seeking emergency room care in extreme cases. Your dentist can evaluate your extraction site and determine whether or not you’re experiencing dry socket. Your dentist can also help alleviate any symptoms by gently cleaning your socket, or by covering the exposed socket with a medicated patch or paste.
Dry socket is a painful condition, but it is highly treatable and easily preventable. Following your recommended care plan is a great way to improve your outcome. Connecting with your nearest local dentist you trust can help you feel confident in your post-surgical care plan.