Getting your wisdom teeth removed can be a painful experience. In many cases, the reason for getting your wisdom teeth extracted in the first place is because you are experiencing pain, swelling, and even headaches. One of the reasons for these symptoms is when your wisdom teeth become impacted. There are four types of impacted wisdom teeth, and you can read more about impacted wisdom teeth in our recent post.
Once you have had your wisdom teeth removed, an issue that can develop is called dry socket. Whilst research from Columbia University of Dental Medicine estimates that it only occurs in approximately 2-5% of wisdom teeth removals, it is still an extremely painful experience that can last for up to seven days.
But what is dry socket?
What is dry socket?
Dry socket or alveolar osteitis as it is referred to in medical terms is a condition that happens when the socket left after a wisdom tooth removal either doesn’t develop a blood clot or the blood clot is dislodged before the hole heals.
When the blood clot fails to develop or is dislodged, this leaves the hole where the tooth has been removed exposed, along with the nerves and this then becomes susceptible to air, food, and bacteria.
If food, or even air, enters the exposed socket, this can exacerbate the pain, increase the risk of infection, and slow down the healing process.
Typically, dry socket is more common in the removal of the lower wisdom teeth than the upper, but it can happen on either.
Symptoms of dry socket, which you can see below, will typically occur within 2-3 days of the wisdom tooth removal. If you have no symptoms during this period, it is likely that the blood clot has developed, and this will protect the socket and allow it to heal properly.
What are the symptoms of dry socket?
Typically, after a wisdom tooth extraction, you won’t feel too much discomfort, however, if, after a couple of days, you start to experience some extreme pain around the extraction area, this could be a sign of dry socket. Other symptoms to look out for include:
- Partial or total loss of the blood clot at the tooth extraction site, which you may notice as an empty-looking (dry) socket
- Visible bone in the socket
- Pain that radiates from the socket to your ear, eye, temple, or neck on the same side of your face as the extraction
- Bad breath or a foul odour coming from your mouth
- Unpleasant taste in your mouth
Is dry socket painful?
The most common symptom of dry socket after a wisdom tooth removal is pain. The pain you might experience is described as throbbing or radiating and as we mentioned above, this can extend all the way up to your ear and temple. Whilst some degree of pain after a wisdom tooth extraction is to be expected, you may need to follow up with your dentist if that pain becomes unbearable.
How to prevent dry socket
Whilst dry socket can occur naturally, there are some things you should look to do following a wisdom tooth extraction to reduce the risks of dry socket. Your dentist will provide you with information and guidance following the extraction, however, here are some good tips to consider if you have an upcoming wisdom tooth extraction:
- Avoid smoking – smoking is one of the biggest causes of dry socket, with research showing that smokers are 12% more likely to get dry socket. This includes any type of smoking or vaping as it is related to the sucking action that can dislodge the blood clot over the socket. Tobacco products have also been shown to disrupt the healing process so if you can, try to use nicotine patches during the healing process.
- Don’t use straws – any type of suction can remove the blood clot from the socket so it’s also best to avoid drinking anything through a straw during the healing period.
- Eat the right food – like most dental procedures, it’s important to eat the right food after a wisdom tooth extraction to help reduce the potential for dry socket. In this case, eating soft foods that require little chewing is a good idea. Avoid eating anything crunchy or anything that needs a lot of chewing for at least a week after your extraction. Food like soups, broths, mashed potatoes, beans, yoghurts, and smoothies are all good foods when you are recovering from a wisdom tooth extraction.
- Avoid coffee and carbonated drinks – it’s a good idea to avoid hot and cold drinks in the immediate period after your tooth extraction. It is likely that the area will be very sensitive, and you want to give it the best possible chance for the blood clot to develop.
- Birth control pills – there has been some evidence to suggest that some contraceptives can impact the healing process. You should speak to your dentist about birth control prior to your surgery.
- Keep the area clean – it is important to keep the socket area as clean as possible following the extraction to allow the clot to form and to prevent any food or bacteria from entering the socket. Gentle brushing is the best way to keep the socket clean, however, you can also carry out regular rinsing with a saltwater solution.
- Rest – as with any surgery, the best way to recover from a wisdom tooth extraction and to prevent dry socket is to rest. Your body heals best when you are sleeping so make sure you get plenty of rest following your surgery.
Dry socket treatment
If dry socket does occur following wisdom tooth extraction, it is likely that you will need to visit your dentist to manage the condition. Whilst over-the-counter remedies such as pain relief can help, dry socket can be extremely painful and it is important that the wound heals properly so your dentist will be able to provide you with the best advice and guidance for the treatment of dry socket.
If you can manage the pain and other symptoms of dry socket from home, here are some of the recommended treatments:
- Flush the socket – as well as being a great way to prevent dry socket in the first place, if you do develop dry socket, it will be important to flush the wound with a saline solution that will help to remove food particles or bacteria that might be causing the pain or infection.
- Gauze application – following your surgery, the wound will be packed with medical gauze to help the wound to clot properly. This gauze can help if dry socket develops, helping to speed up the healing process. The gauze may need changing a few times depending on the severity of the conditions.
- Over-the-counter medication – depending on the amount of pain you experience, over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen can be sufficient to manage the pain. In some cases, if an infection occurs, antibiotics may be necessary to tackle the infection.
- Hot and cold packs – following the procedure, applying a cold compress to the side of your face can help to reduce the swelling and help with pain relief. In the days following, a heat pack can also be applied to help to manage the pain.
Will dry socket heal on its own?
In most cases, dry socket will heal on its own. As long as no infection develops, many people can manage the symptoms of dry socket with home remedies and time.
Dry socket healing time
Dry socket will typically last for about seven days unless an infection develops in the area. Whilst it is a painful experience, the pain should start to ease after 2-3 days and if it doesn’t, then you may need to consult your dentist.
Wisdom teeth removal is required more often than you might think, and we’ve helped many patients in Hamilton with this treatment for years. Our dentists have the expertise, knowledge and experience to make this procedure as comfortable as it can be so you can have it done and get on with your normal life.
Sometimes, however, conditions like dry socket can occur and we will provide you with information about this both prior to and following your wisdom tooth removal surgery.