Having A Tooth Extracted? Know How To Recognize And Treat A Dry Socket

Posted on: 5 October 2015

After you have a tooth extracted, a blood clot forms in the open socket where the tooth used to be. Without that blood clot, there's essentially nothing protecting the exposed bone and nerves in your jaw until the wound in your gumline heals. When that happens, you get what is called a "dry socket." Here's what you should know.

Extreme pain is the most obvious symptom. 

Because dry socket tends to occur with molars (which have thicker, wider roots than the teeth in the front of your mouth) you usually can't tell whether there's a blood clot in the socket like there should be or not. However, dry socket is extremely painful—air, saliva, fluids or food hitting the exposed bone and nerves in your jaw all hurt far more than they should for a normal extraction.

If you've never had an extraction before, how do you tell what's normal? Usually, the pain of an extraction is worst on the day of the extraction and begins to settle down by the second day. If you have a dry socket, the pain gets worse, not better. The pain may radiate all the way up to your ear or down into your neck. Additional symptoms include bad breath and a foul taste in your mouth. If you can see into the hole where the tooth is, you might be able to clearly see bone instead of a dark clot of blood.

It has a really easy solution.

The good news is that your dentist can quickly and easily stop the pain. The most common procedure for managing dry socket involves packing the wound with sterile gauze soaked in clove oil. This can actually provide almost immediate relief, even without painkillers.

There are kits with clove oil and gauze available in some drugstores and specialty shops that sell herbal remedies. However, if you decide to use one to get pain relief, you should still call your dentist and arrange to be seen right away.

Your dentist needs to monitor your condition.

Without that blood clot, the open socket is an open conduit for bacteria and you can easily end up with an infection. Your dentist needs to evaluate you to see if you need an antibiotic. If a bacterial infection takes hold, it can lead to sepsis. Sepsis from a single open dental socket can lead to systemic organ failure and death. This is particularly possible if you had the tooth removed because of an infection in the first place.

In addition, your dentist is going to want to monitor the healing of your wound, since the clot isn't there. If you leave the gauze in too long, your gum can actually trap the gauze inside the wound, which means it would have to be cut back out!

Even if you have the best dentist in the country, you can still end up with a dry socket. Often, they just happen. However, minimize your risk of getting one after an extraction by carefully following your dentist's recommendations, especially regarding drinking with a straw and smoking. The sucking action required for either is often what dislodges new blood clots and starts the dry socket.