Of the millions of teeth removed surgically each year, the vast majority of them have few if any complications. A small number of patients, however, do experience a particularly discomforting one known as dry socket.
This condition occurs when the blood clot that normally forms in a socket after an extraction fails to form or is lost. The clot helps protect the bone and nerves underneath the socket, so losing it exposes the area to temperature variations, food particles and fluids. As a result, some unpleasant symptoms can develop.
Usually manifesting around the third or fourth day after surgery, these symptoms include a bad odor or taste in the mouth and aching, throbbing pain. Fortunately, the symptoms, which usually fade in one to three days, don't pose a threat to your health. Nevertheless, you could be in for a rough time while it lasts.
So, if it happens, why you? To be honest, some people are simply more susceptible to developing dry socket, especially smokers or women who use certain contraceptives. You're also more likely to develop a dry socket if the tooth in question experienced higher than usual trauma because of difficulties in removing it. And, you could damage the forming clot if you vigorously chew or brush your teeth too soon after your procedure.
To avoid this, dentists usually recommend rinsing your teeth the first day after surgery rather than brushing the extracted area, and to chew gently, preferably on soft foods using the other side of the mouth. You might also avoid hot liquids and smoking for a few days.
If despite your best efforts you do develop a dry socket, give your dentist a call. Your dental provider can irrigate the socket and apply a medicated dressing that can speed up healing (you'll have to change every few days until symptoms abate). The dressing will provide pain relief to dramatically reduce your discomfort within just a few minutes, which you can supplement with ibuprofen or similar medication.
In time, the pain and other symptoms associated with a dry socket will subside. In the meantime, you and your dentist can take steps to make sure you're as comfortable as possible.
If you would like more information on dry socket, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”