Any dental patient with an upcoming tooth extraction dreads those two awful words: dry socket. This condition is rumored to be one of most painful side effects you can experience from any pulled tooth, but it's notoriously popular after wisdom tooth surgery. Here's what you need to know about dry socket, including what it is and how to prevent it.
What is dry socket, anyway?
Dry socket is exactly what it sounds like; when your tooth is removed, an empty socket is left behind. Ideally, this socket will fill with blood which forms a clot. In the vast majority of cases, this clot forms without incident, and the socket heals normally. However, sometimes the clot doesn't form properly or is washed away and swallowed. The overall percentage of people who experience this condition is only about 2 to 5 percent. Still, you should take precautionary measures because the side effects of dry socket are usually quite painful.
What can you do to prevent dry socket?
Though some people will form dry socket for no apparent reason, there are many things you can do to prevent it. For one, don't smoke or use a straw after surgery. Any sucking motion may cause a blood clot to dislodge. Also, if your dental care professional or oral surgeon tells you to bite down on gauze after surgery, do it. It may take quite a while for the blood to stop and a clot to form, but you should keep biting on the gauze until the socket no longer bleeds freely.
Also, don't rinse your mouth or brush your teeth for at least 24 hours following surgery. After 24 hours has elapsed, however, it's important to keep the site clean by rinsing gently with warm salt water.
What are the symptoms of dry socket?
The most common sign of dry socket is pain. This pain may start in the jaw and radiate up into the ear or even the hairline. It may gradually worsen. A bad taste in the mouth or bad breath are also common symptoms. Sometimes you can actually see the empty socket if you look in a mirror. A dark hole with no blood clot or one with just a bit of white bone showing are telltale signs that you have a dry socket.
What are the treatment options for dry socket?
Dry socket isn't a threat to your health, though these extraction sites may take longer to heal than ones that clot properly. Treatment for the condition focuses mainly on providing pain relief. Your dentist or surgeon may pack the socket with medicine. Oftentimes, this medicine has clove oil, which leaves a bad taste but works quite well at relieving pain quickly. They may also prescribe opioid pain relievers or suggest over the counter pain relievers for mild pain.
You should never avoid a necessary tooth extraction because you fear dry socket. If you prepare properly, it's unlikely that you will develop the condition after surgery. Even if dry socket forms, however, the various treatment options can vastly diminish or even completely remove the pain, and the site will eventually heal, causing no more discomfort.
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