Dry socket, known as alveolar osteitis, is a painful condition which develops after a tooth removal. It most commonly occurs in people who have undergone wisdom teeth removal, due to how common the procedure is.
Itâ€™s uncomfortable and it results in a difficult few days. Luckily, only up to 5 per cent of people who undergo surgery actually develop dry socket. Itâ€™s an easily treatable condition and doesnâ€™t manifest into more dangerous conditions.
What is it?
After your wisdom teeth extraction, you can expect discomfort for a few days. This is standard and happens to anyone who has to have a tooth removed. If the condition persists and you find yourself in pain for five or six days, itâ€™s highly likely youâ€™ve developed the dry socket condition.
The socket itself is actually the gap left by the removed tooth. In a healthy person, a blood clot seals off the area and the pain goes away after a few days. Someone who is less healthy might have the blood clot dissolve or it might dislodge. The pain caused occurs because of the exposed nerves underneath.
Itâ€™s why youâ€™ll feel more pain when eating or drinking. The site itself can become infected, which leads to more pain.
Who Gets Dry Socket?
Anyone can develop the condition. Even if youâ€™re perfectly healthy, you might be unlucky enough to suffer from it. There are certain groups of people who will have a higher chance following wisdom tooth extraction. Wisdom tooth dry socket sufferers often:
- Use certain medications, like birth control.
- Have a predisposition to developing dry socket.
- Have suffered significant physical trauma to the site during surgery (most commonly a mistake from the dentist).
All the above groups have something in common. They all have the healing process impaired. The blood clot might be weak or might not develop fully at all.
You can see the condition. Grab a mirror and a small light and look into your mouth. At the back where the wisdom tooth was, youâ€™ll see an opening. It will look dry and socket like. A healthy healing process reveals a dark red clot. Where there should be a clot will be a white colour. This is actually your exposed jaw bone.
Youâ€™ll start to feel a more severe pain about two days after the tooth was removed. It will become more severe over time. In a normal extraction, the pain reaches its peak within days of the extraction and starts to get weaker over the coming days.
The pain from dry socket might radiate around the jaw and all the way to the ear.
Sufferers also note bad breath and an unpleasant taste. This is due to rotting food which has lodged itself in the socket.
Treating the Problem
The first thing you should do is give your dentist a call. Tell them you think you have dry socket because the pain hasnâ€™t disappeared. Theyâ€™ll set up an emergency appointment with you and confirm the condition.
In the meantime, take a painkiller like ibuprofen or aspirin. It will dull the pain. In more serious cases, you might need to visit your doctor so you can receive more powerful prescription painkillers.
At the dentist, youâ€™ll receive an examination. Theyâ€™ll confirm it was dry socket caused by your recent wisdom tooth removal. Theyâ€™ll start by cleaning the hole of any food particles which have managed to make their way into the socket. Theyâ€™ll fill the socket with a dressing full of medication. Theyâ€™ll also use a paste to lock it in and accelerate the healing process.
This is only a very temporary dressing and youâ€™ll have to visit your dentist each day for the next week or two until it starts to heal.
Youâ€™ll usually receive antibiotics to fight against infection and a special mouthwash or salt water to clean the area regularly.
During the healing process, keep your toothbrush and floss well away from the socket. The movement of either could easily dislodge the paste and cause further damage. There have been cases where patients have had to restart the process again because theyâ€™ve irritated it by brushing.
Listen to your dentist and rinse with the products he or she gives you. They will keep the area clean and prevent you from sustaining an infection.
Contrary to popular belief, cleaning your teeth regularly before the extraction doesnâ€™t have any impact on whether youâ€™ll develop dry socket. Itâ€™s all based on the way the blood clot reacts and how quickly it heals. Brushing the area can actually cause problems after your tooth extraction.
The best thing you can do is to keep your brush away from the area immediately after the procedure and stick to using mouthwash. Your overall physical health has the biggest influence on your bodyâ€™s clotting mechanisms.