What Is Dry Socket and What Does Dry Socket Feel Like?
Most of the time, when suffering from a toothache, we tend to believe that the only thing that could rid us of such pain is tooth extraction. While that does take care of the aches (and some other dental maladies), tooth extraction can lead to a complication of terrible, almost unbearable pain. According to Gentle Touch Dentistry, a dentist in Palos Hills, this is a symptom associated with dry socket, or alveolar osteitis.
What Is Dry Socket?
Each of our teeth grows out of a socket in the mouth; once a tooth is extracted, what’s left is the tooth socket. According to the American Dental Association, “Dry socket is a painful condition that sometimes occurs after a tooth is extracted. It happens when the blood clot that forms over your socket is displaced, leaving bones and nerves exposed.” After a tooth extraction, blood starts to clot over the socket, sealing it and allowing the socket to heal. However, for reasons not yet fully understood by dental specialists, this blood clot can get dislodged, rendering the bones and nerves vulnerable.
In a research conducted by the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery of the University of Illinois in Chicago, 95-100% of all dry socket cases are reported within one week of the extraction, with most occurring within one to three days. The research also compares the incidence of alveolar osteitis among different types of extraction. Regular dental extractions have a dry socket incidence of 0.5% to 5%; mandibular third molar extractions have a dry socket incidence of 1% to 37.5%; and the highest rate is associated with surgical extractions, with incidences up to 10 times higher.
What Causes Dry Socket?
Dry socket is the most common complication associated with tooth extractions. Dental experts still haven’t fully established what causes dry socket, although some risk factors have been recognized:
- Surgical trauma and difficulty of surgery
- Inexperienced surgeon
- Removal of mandibular third molars
- Systemic disease such as diabetes
- Using oral contraceptives
- Patient’s gender (a higher incidence of dry socket have been reported among female patients)
- Drinking through a straw
- Physical dislodgement of the blood clot
- Bacterial infection
- Excessive and repeated irrigation of alveolus
- Age of the patient (higher incidence of dry socket have been reported among patients over 24 years old)
- Local anesthetic with vasoconstrictor
- Bone/root fragments in the wound
What Does Dry Socket Feel Like?
Dry socket is reported to be even more painful than the tooth extraction procedure, where anesthetics are used to numb the gums and the nerves. In some cases, the pain is much more unbearable than what existed prior to the procedure. As reported on Colgate’s website, when the blood clot is dislodged, the socket is left vulnerable to elements such as air, water and food. When these elements come in contact with bones and nerves, it results in a searing pain that radiates and lasts for a few hours or sometimes even days.
How Can You Prevent Dry Socket?
Dry socket can be prevented by proactively making the mouth area conducive for healing. Women are recommended to forego oral contraceptives during the healing period, as these prevent blood clot formation. Smoking must also be avoided, as not only does it prevent clotting, but also makes the extraction area susceptible to bacterial infection.
Pain medication and antibiotics help manage pain and avoid infection, but in severe cases, it is most prudent to go back to the dentist. It is important that you have your dry socket checked for possible infection, in which case, the dentist will have to clean the area of residue and re-dress it if necessary. Research has shown that dressing the wound in gauze delays the healing process, although it works to protect the area against infection. A post-procedure checkup is necessary to guarantee that healing has completed and no other complication has arisen from the extraction.
The first five days following your tooth extraction are most critical to the healing of the socket. Most dentists give patients a pamphlet that illustrates post-procedure dos and don’ts. In case your dentist misses out on this one, here are a few tips:
- Avoid strenuous physical activity in the first 24 hours. You could be feeling physically well, but physical activities such as working out, running and lifting heavy weights can put pressure onto the affected area, causing the blood clot to become dislodged.
- Let the blood clot. Keep the gauze in place for about an hour post-operation, as this helps stop bleeding. In case bleeding persists within the next few hours, place a wet tea bag over the socket, as the acid in the tea helps stimulate clotting.
- Apply an ice pack to the affected area to numb the pain and prevent swelling.
- Rinse with a warm saline solution 12 hours post-operation.
- Avoid solid foods until you feel the numbness go away. It is best to stick with soft foods such as porridge, soup, and smoothies.