What is Dry Socket? Signs, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Gentle Dental

woman suffering from dry socket

Dry socket can be a very painful problem that requires prompt treatment from a dental professional. Here’s what you should know about this potentially serious issue.

What Is Dry Socket?

Dry sockets develop after tooth extractions if blood clots either fail to form or become dislodged from the vacated space. Because dry socket leaves underlying nerves exposed, it can be very painful and can lead to serious infections when left untreated. 

Dry Socket Symptoms

Signs of dry socket may include:

  • Severe pain within a few days after having a tooth removed
  • Empty space at extraction site due to partial or total loss of the blood clot 
  • Visible bone within the empty socket
  • Pain radiating from the socket to the eye, ear, temple or neck
  • Bad breath or unpleasant taste
How Common Is Dry Socket?

Although it is the most common complication of tooth extraction, dry socket is still relatively rare. One study found that only approximately 40 out of the 2,218 subjects experienced some degree of dry socket after having a tooth removed. 

Who Is Likely to Get Dry Socket?

If you have recently had a tooth extracted, you could develop dry socket. That said, it’s a relatively unlikely occurrence unless you have special risk factors that make you more vulnerable.

Risk Factors for Dry Socket

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are some predisposing factors that can make patients more likely to develop dry socket. These include:

  • Tobacco use: Chemicals in cigarettes or other kinds of tobacco can slow healing and contaminate the wound site. Sucking on cigarettes may also dislodge the blood clot.
  • Oral contraceptives: Birth control pills can elevate estrogen levels and disrupt normal healing processes.
  • Poor at-home care: When patients fail to follow home-care guidelines, they are more likely to develop a dry socket.
  • Past occurrences: If you’ve had a dry socket in the past, you are more likely to experience it again. 
  • Infections: Previous or current infections around the extraction site increase a patient’s risk of dry socket.
How Is Dry Socket Diagnosed?

Dentists usually suspect that a patient has developed a dry socket when pain doesn’t go away after three days following an extraction. They can confirm a dry socket diagnosis by visually inspecting the wound.

Will Dry Socket Heal on its Own?

Because a dry socket can leave the bones and nerves exposed, it’s important to seek dental care. If left untreated, dry socket can lead to infection and other complications. Although it might heal without intervention, there are risks; so, it’s best to seek attention from a dental professional.

How Long Does Dry Socket Last?

Dry socket can last from a week to ten days, depending on whether the blood clot dissolved too early, dislodged or never formed in the first place. Healing times can stretch even longer if an infection develops. Timely treatment can reduce healing time and reduce the risk of infections.

Treatment for Dry Socket

Dry socket treatment usually focuses on alleviating symptoms while the socket heals. The dentist will gently irrigate the socket to clear out food debris. Analgesic medicated packing is usually placed within the socket to shield the exposed bone. Every few days, the packing or dressing may need to be replaced during the healing process. The dressing or packing may be coated with “dry socket paste,” which contains pain-relieving properties. Medications can be prescribed to manage the pain. If the dentist suspects an infection, medication may be prescribed to kill bacteria. In severe instances, oral surgery may be necessary.