Wisdom teeth removal is a safe procedure that is almost never dangerous, but patients can expect to experience some pain and tenderness in the area for a few days after their procedure. If the pain becomes intense or does not diminish over time, however, it may be a symptom of “dry socket,” also known as alveolar osteitis, which is a painful dental problem that can occur after a permanent tooth has been extracted.
Dry socket happens when the blood clot that should form at the extraction site either doesn’t develop, dissolves too soon, or becomes dislodged before the wound has fully healed. Dry sockets after wisdom teeth removal are especially common, although it is still only estimated to occur in 2% to 5% of patients.
This article explores the main causes and symptoms, as well as the prevention and treatment methods.
What Are the Causes of Dry Sockets?
The exact cause of dry sockets is still being researched. Scientists believe that various factors could play a role, but some of the most commonly observed causes include bacterial infection in the socket, dehydration of the tissues from smoking, drinking from a straw, and injury to the surgical site from a complicated extraction.
When a tooth is extracted, a blood clot forms in the socket to protect the bone and nerves. If this blood clot is dislodged or dissolves too soon, the bone and nerves are exposed to the oral environment, which can lead to bacterial infections. While bacterial infection does not cause the dissolution of the clot directly, harmful microorganisms can invade the socket in its absence and cause inflammation, pain, and delayed healing. Proper oral hygiene and care after tooth extraction can help prevent bacterial infections and reduce the risk of developing dry sockets.
Smoking is also a well-known cause of dry sockets. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can reduce blood flow to the extraction site, impairing the formation and maintenance of the blood clot. Nicotine in tobacco can also constrict blood vessels and interfere with the body’s natural healing process while drying out the surrounding tissues and encouraging the development of bacteria.
Additionally, smoking can introduce harmful bacteria into the extraction site, increasing the risk of infection. Individuals who smoke are at a higher risk of developing dry socket after wisdom teeth removal compared to non-smokers. It is recommended that patients who smoke refrain from smoking for at least 48 hours after a tooth extraction to reduce the risk of developing a dry socket.
Drinking From a Straw
Drinking from a straw can also be a contributing factor to dry socket. The suction created while using a straw can dislodge the blood clot from the extraction site, which can delay the healing process and lead to the development of a dry socket after wisdom teeth removal or other extractions. It is recommended to avoid using straws for at least the first 24 to 48 hours after a tooth extraction, as this is the critical period when the blood clot is forming and stabilizing in the socket.
After this period, it is still advisable to use caution and limit the suction force while drinking with a straw to avoid dislodging the clot and potentially causing a dry socket.
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Sockets?
After undergoing tooth extraction surgery, patients can expect to experience some typical discomfort such as swelling and soreness, which can be effectively managed using non-prescription pain relievers, and should completely disappear within three days post-surgery.
However, if the pain worsens, it could be an indication that the bone and nerve tissue have been exposed, causing intense, sharp pain similar to nerve pain or a cold sensation. Symptoms of dry sockets include the following:
Pain and Discomfort
Pain and discomfort are common symptoms of dry socket after wisdom teeth removal, but should subside after a matter of days. Pain from dry sockets can range from a dull ache that persists beyond the expected healing time to one that’s intense and can radiate to the ear, eye, or temple on the same side as the extraction site.
Changes in Taste and Smell
An unpleasant taste in the mouth and bad breath can also be signs of dry sockets. As the blood clot dislodges or dissolves prematurely, bacteria can infect the extraction site, causing an unpleasant taste in the mouth and bad breath.
There are visible signs that can indicate the presence of a dry socket after wisdom teeth removal surgery. When the blood clot is dislodged or dissolves prematurely, the extraction site can become inflamed and expose the underlying bone. As a result, a visible bone in the socket may be noticed.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is essential to seek prompt treatment from a dentist or oral surgeon to avoid further complications and promote healing.
How to Prevent Dry Socket After Wisdom Teeth Removal?
If you are wondering how to prevent dry socket after wisdom teeth removal and to minimize the risk of dry sockets, take the following steps before undergoing tooth extraction surgery.
Inform your dental professional about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking, including birth control, as some can inhibit blood clotting and increase the risk of dry socket after wisdom teeth removal.
If you smoke, reduce or avoid smoking before and after the extraction, and consider using nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches, to aid in the healing process. You may also seek advice from your dentist on quitting smoking.
After your extraction procedure, carefully follow the post-operative instructions and care guidelines provided by your dentist. In case of any concerns or queries, do not hesitate to contact Great Basin Oral and Facial Surgery.
How to Treat Dry Sockets?
In case of a dry socket after wisdom teeth removal, your dentist will clean the extraction site to remove any food particles or debris that may be contributing to the pain and prevent infection of dry socket after wisdom teeth removal.
Additionally, a medicated dressing or paste may be applied to the socket to alleviate pain. In some cases, you may need to revisit your dentist after a few days to have the dressing replaced if the pain persists. Alternatively, you may be instructed to remove the dressing at home and clean the socket as directed.
Your dentist may suggest the use of a saltwater rinse or prescribe a medicated mouthwash to promote healing and prevent infection. In some cases, antibiotics may also be prescribed to reduce the risk of infection.
While dry socket is a somewhat common complication that can occur after tooth extraction, there is plenty that patients can do to protect themselves. If you are scheduled to have wisdom teeth removal surgery or are currently struggling with dry sockets, reach out to the professional at Great Basin Oral & Facial Surgery. Our experienced team can help patients minimize the risk and impact of dry socket after tooth extraction. Call today and make your appointment today!