Having a tooth pulled can be an unpleasant experience. If you’re like most people, you expect to feel discomfort after the procedure. While it’s completely normal to feel pain after the initial extraction, pain that becomes intense and does not subside may be a sign of a much larger problem: Dry socket.
Dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis, is very rare. In fact, the condition only affects 2 to 5 percent of people who have their teeth extracted. Although this dental problem can be painful, treating the condition is a relatively simple process.
What Causes Dry Socket?
When a tooth is extracted, a hole is left in the bone. This hole is referred to as a “socket”. Under normal circumstances, the tooth is extracted and a blood clot forms in the socket. The clot protects the bone and nerves. In some cases, the clot becomes either dislodged or it dissolves after a few days. This leaves the bone and nerves exposed to air, fluid, food and any other substance that enters your mouth. The exposure can lead to an infection and severe pain that can last as long as 6 days.
While this problem can happen to anyone, there are certain individuals that are more likely to develop the condition. These include:
- Those with poor oral hygiene
- Those who use birth control pills
- Those who have had their wisdom teeth pulled
- Those with a history of dry socket
Let’s now take a closer look at the symptoms of this problem.
Dry Socket Symptoms
The following symptoms are associated with dry socket:
- Severe pain that sets in a few days after the tooth extraction
- Foul breath
- Visible bone in the socket
- Radiating pain from the socket to the ear, temple, eye or neck
- Unpleasant taste
- Swollen lymph nodes around the neck or jaw
It’s important to remember that a certain degree of pain is to be expected after a tooth extraction. When the pain becomes severe or worsens, call your dentist immediately.
Diagnosing the condition is relatively simple. In most cases, the severe pain you experience is enough to for your dentist to believe that this problem is the issue. To confirm the diagnosis, he or she will check the extraction site to see if a blood clot is present in the socket. In some cases, dentists will also perform X-rays to rule out other conditions.
What Are The Most Effective Treatment Options?
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and aspirin may be recommended to help relieve the pain. If over-the-counter drugs do not eliminate the discomfort, your dentist may prescribe a stronger painkiller or numb the area.
At this point, your dentist will clean the socket and remove any debris lodged inside. The socket will be filled with a paste or a medicated dressing to speed up the healing process. While the socket is healing, you will need to return to your dentist’s office every day to have the dressing changed. Some dentists will also prescribe antibiotics to prevent or eliminate the infection.
As far as at-home care is concerned, your dentist may recommend flushing your socket using a solution of water and salt, or a prescription rinse. At-home flushes will need to be performed every day until the socket stops collecting debris.
Taking Preventative Measures
There are several steps you can take to help prevent dry socket. Smoking is a major contributor to the development of this condition.
- Avoiding tobacco products for a few days after the tooth extraction is recommended.
- If you are on birth control, ask your dentist to schedule the extract on a day when your estrogen levels are at its lowest levels. Estrogen can affect the way the blood clots and contribute to dry socket.
- Tell your dentist about any medications that you may be taking. Certain medications can interfere with the blood’s ability to clot.
Make sure to follow your dentist’s instructions for post-extraction care and attend all of your scheduled follow-up visits.