Dry Socket: Causes, Symptoms, Pain & Treatment

Having dry socket is an uncomfortable and unfortunate thing, but with the right understanding and treatment, you can overcome this oral condition.

What Is Dry Socket?

Dry socket (aka alveolar osteitis) is a condition of the mouth that is best described by its own name — it’s when your tooth socket lacks the proper blood clot after a tooth extraction. Either the blood clot fails to develop, or it develops and then gets dislodged or dissolves before complete healing.

What should happen is that a blood clot forms in the socket of the tooth that has been removed. This helps protect the bone and nerve endings beneath. The clot also allows for new bone and soft tissue to grow.

What Does Dry Socket Look Like?

If you notice the socket of an extracted tooth looks empty and bloodless, you may have dry socket. Also, if you can see bone inside the socket, than you most likely have dry socket.

Dry socket is when an empty tooth socket becomes dry because a blood clot didn’t form properly.

What Causes Dry Socket?

Experts are still studying the exact cause of dry socket, so there’s not a definitive cause for it. But researchers have somewhat of an idea of some possible causes, which include bacteria buildup, trauma to the tooth or surrounding areas, and complicated extractions.

Risk Factors

Although not direct causes, there are some things that can increase your chances of experiencing dry socket. These risk factors include:

  • Smoking and tobacco use: the toxins in tobacco products can stunt or severely slow the healing process of a tooth extraction, contaminate the area, and dislodge the any potential blood clot
  • Contraceptives taken orally: taking an oral contraceptive can raise your estrogen levels, which can upset the healing process
  • Poor oral hygiene: failing to properly take care of your mouth and follow the instructions from your dentist may increase the risk of dry socket
  • Previous experience with dry socket: if you’ve ever had dry socket in the past, you are at higher risk of having it again
  • Infection: tooth or gum infection near an extracted tooth can increase the likelihood of having dry socket
Certain things can exacerbate dry socket, like smoking, oral contraceptives, bad oral hygiene, infection, and previously having dry socket.

Dry Socket Symptoms

After having a tooth pulled, there are some things you should look for to see if you have dry socket. The signs and symptoms of dry socket to look for include:

  • Extreme pain occurring within a couple days after tooth extraction
  • An empty-looking tooth socket with no blood clot
  • Visible bone inside the tooth socket
  • Pain on or around the surgical site or radiating to the ear, eye, neck, or temple
  • Bad breath
  • Bad taste in your mouth

If you experience any of these after a tooth extraction, you should contact your dentist immediately.

The symptoms of dry socket include pain within a few days of a tooth extraction, visible bone inside the socket, bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.

Dry Socket Pain

It’s normal to experience some pain and discomfort after getting a tooth pulled. But you should be able to manage it with the prescription pain medication from your dentist. These medicines should help keep the pain from getting severe.

On the first day after the surgery, you can use ice packs on your cheek over the tooth extraction site. After that, you should use warm packs to help cut down on the pain and swelling.

But if the pain worsens even after pain medication, ice packs, and warm packs, you should call your dentist to schedule a follow-up.

Pain after a tooth extraction is normal, but if it persists even after pain meds, rest, and ice, contact your dentist. It may be dry socket.

Dry Socket Treatment

So if the worst case scenario happens and you do experience dry socket, what are the next steps? How will your dentist diagnose and treat it?

How To Diagnose Dry Socket

When you visit your dentist for a post-extraction checkup, they will examine your mouth and the socket. They may ask you about your symptoms, and they may even need to take an X-ray test. The dental X-ray will help the dentist see if there are potentially any related conditions, like a bone infection or remaining root or bone in the socket.

How To Treat Dry Socket

The main focus when treating a dry socket is to reduce the symptoms and the pain. Treatment options for dry socket may include:

  • Flushing the tooth socket: flushing out your tooth socket can help rid the area of left behind food particles that could be contributing to pain or infection
  • Medicine-drenched dressings: one thing your dentist may do is stuff dressings with medicated gel into your tooth socket, which typically give you quick pain relief
  • Pain medicine: your dentist will prescribe a medication to take away the pain you will most certainly have directly following the surgery
  • At-home care: a lot of the post-operative treatment will be up to you, which can involve you flushing the socket (your dentist will give you exact instructions on how to care for your tooth socket and whole mouth)

As the treatment continues, the pain should lessen. You’ll also need to have follow-up visits with your dentist.

Your dentist will use an X-ray to see if you definitely have dry socket. As far as treatment, the dentist will clean out the socket, use lots of medicine, and at-home care instructions.

Home Remedies For Dry Socket

Speaking of at-home care, there are plenty of home remedy options that you can do. As long as your dentist approves of these, you can do the following at home:

  • Drink lots of liquids, mainly water (no carbonated beverages
  • Gently rinse your mouth with salt water multiple times a day
  • Softly brush your teeth around the socket
  • Put ice on your cheek over the surgical site
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine
  • Put one to two drops of clove oil on a clean cotton swab and apply it to the socket and surrounding area for temporary pain relief
You can do things at home to treat dry socket, like drinking lots of water, being gentle when cleaning your teeth, using ice on your cheek, and taking pain meds.

How Long Does Dry Socket Last?

Fortunately, there’s not a lot to say about how long dry socket lasts. Typically, it will heal up within 10 days as new soft tissue grows, filling in the socket. And there are usually no long-term effects on your oral health after healing. And there are usually no long-term effects on your oral health after healing.

How To Prevent Dry Socket

There are many things you can do on your own to avoid dry socket. Before your tooth extraction surgery, here are some steps to take:

  • Find a dentist who specializes in tooth extractions
  • Stop tobacco use before the surgery as far in advance as possible — as we mentioned earlier, the use of tobacco greatly increases your chances of getting dry socket
  • Tell the dental professional about any OTC or prescription drugs you’re taking

Additionally, the dentist or oral surgeon may take some steps before the surgery to help prevent dry socket. They may take the following steps:

  • Ask you to use antibacterial mouthwash before and after the surgery
  • Prescribe antibiotics orally (especially if you have issues with your immune system)
  • Apply antiseptic solutions to the wound
  • Apply post-operative medicated dressings

On top of all this, you can take action at home to prevent dry socket from happening. A lot of the things you’ll do will be similar to treating dry socket, but many of these steps are solely preventative in nature:

  • Rest the entire day of the surgery — your dentist or oral surgeon will tell you when it’s okay to start being active again and to what degree
  • Drink lots of water and no carbonated beverages
  • Use ice and heat at your dentist’s instructions
  • Eat soft foods only on the first day, staying away from very hot or very cold foods and chewing on the opposite side of your mouth as the socket
  • Gently rinse your mouth and brush your teeth, avoiding the surgical site for at least 24 hours
  • Do not use tobacco
To prevent dry socket, you can take good care of your mouth by keeping it clean and not smoking. You should also visit your dentist on a regular basis for checkups.

Dry Socket: Stay On Top Of It

Dry socket is an uncomfortable condition, but it is a preventable and treatable thing. And now that you know everything necessary to prevent, treat, and prepare for dry socket, it’s just a matter of staying on top of it.