What is a dry socket and what should I know about it?

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General Dental Care
BSc, DDS (Melb)

Dry SocketA dry socket, often referred to as “alveolar osteitis”, is an uncommon complication that occurs after a tooth extraction. It’s termed “dry socket” because the wound site appears bare or dry.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with this condition find that they have increasing, throbbing pain in the area three to five days after the removal of their tooth. This is normally the period of time during which discomfort starts to decrease.

What causes dry socket?

Contrary to popular belief, a dry socket is not an infection. Rather, it is a failure of the wound area to heal, allowing the underlying bone to become irritated. It is caused by dislodgement of the blood clot that forms initially over the wound, the purpose of this clot being to allow essential blood cells to access and heal the area.

How can I avoid it?

After any extraction, your dentist will usually advise you about measures you should take to reduce the chance of developing a dry socket. Key recommendations include avoiding smoking; drinking only through a straw; and spitting in the first 24 hours after having a tooth removed. This gives the area the best chance of healing.

Are there any long-term complications associated with a dry socket?

No. It is a treatable, short-term complication that does not have any long-term consequences.

“Help, I think I have a dry socket!”

If you develop pain three to five days after having a tooth extraction, make sure you avoid smoking. Then contact your treating dentist for an emergency appointment so that they can examine the area and put in place a medication to relieve your discomfort.

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