Internet Explorer is not supported for this application. For the best experience, use a supported browser such as Firefox, Safari, Chrome or Edge.

All About the Dreadful Dry Socket

Without proper care of a tooth extraction site, you can end up in a world of hurt.

What is Dry Socket?

After a tooth is extracted, part of the healing process includes the development of a blood clot over the extraction site, or socket. This blood clot serves as protection for the nerves and bone exposed after the tooth was removed. It also helps promote the growth of new bone and soft tissue at the extraction site.

When this blood clot doesn't form properly, or does, but becomes dislodged or dissolves prematurely, it will result in the painful condition known as dry socket. Without the protection of the blood clot, bacteria can also enter the socket, reaching the exposed bone and nerves. In the worst cases, this could result in an infection at the extraction site, including infection in the bone.

What Causes Dry Socket?

Though the exact cause of dry socket has not been determined, there is suspicion that trauma to the extraction site or bacterial contamination of the socket could be factors. You are more at risk of developing a dry socket if you:

  • Smoke or use other forms of tobacco
  • Use e-cigarettes/vape
  • Take oral contraceptives
    • The high level of estrogen could hinder your normal healing process
  • Have an existing infection in your mouth
  • Don't follow after-care instructions
  • Have a history of dry socket from previous extractions

What Should I Do If I Think I Have Dry Socket?

The first thing that you should do, if you suspect you have a dry socket, is to contact your dentist. Your dentist will schedule time to examine the area to determine if you have a dry socket. An X-ray may be necessary to rule out other causes of pain, like remaining tooth fragments from the extraction or a bone infection. Your dentist will then take steps to treat the cause of the pain.

How is Dry Socket Treated?

The pain caused from dry socket cannot be relieved by over-the-counter medications alone and requires professional intervention for relief.

Your dentist may flush out any debris from the socket and pack the open socket with a medicated dressing to prevent any further contamination, which should reduce the level of pain. Home care instructions will be provided so you can learn how to clean and dress the extraction site at home.

How Can I Prevent Dry Socket?

Even though the exact cause of dry socket is unknown, the best way to prevent it is to follow the after-care directions as closely as possible.

Do I Have Dry Socket?

After an extraction, it is normal to experience some pain. However, this pain should reduce over a few days. If you experience any of the following, you may have dry socket:

  • An obvious lack of blood clot where the tooth was pulled
  • Visible bone at the extraction site
  • Increased/severe pain after a few days, possibly radiating to the neck, temple, eye or ear on the same side of the face as the extraction
  • Bad breath, odor, or taste in the mouth

Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.