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What You Need to Know About Dry Socket and Wisdom Tooth Removal

Patient Talking To Dentist
Removing wisdom teeth is a smart move for teens and adults who don't have the space for this third row of molars. While removal is typically viewed as a minor procedure, the possibility of dry socket exists. If you have concerns about developing dry socket, take a look at the answers to some of the top questions that wisdom tooth removal patients have.

How Does Dry Socket Happen?

This often-painful dental issue is a condition that can happen following any permanent tooth extraction — including wisdom teeth removal. In most extractions, a blood clot forms at the removal site. The clot protects the bone (jaw bone) and nerves that are exposed after the dentist removes the tooth. If the clot doesn't form, falls out, or moves away from the extraction site, dry socket is the result.
Without the blood clot covering the extraction site, the socket (the empty space where the wisdom tooth formerly was) is exposed. Not only is the physical space exposed, but the nerves and bone underneath it are too. Having this area exposed creates serious pain.

When Does Dry Socket Occur?

Dry socket can happen any time prior to the incision fully healing. In most cases, patients heal anywhere from 7 to 10 days following extraction. If premature breakdown or displacement of the clot is the cause of dry socket, the condition may take a few days (post-op) to develop.

What Increases the Risk of Dry Socket Development?

Some cases of dry socket happen for no known reason. While a clot can dislodge for any number of reasons, failure to follow the dentist's post-surgery instructions may increase the chances of dry socket happening. These instructions include when it's advisable to remove the gauze, how much rest you should get, when it's acceptable to return to normal activity, and what to eat or drink.
Patients with gum disease, those who smoke (which decreases blood supply to the mouth), and anyone who has had a serious or traumatic surgery are more at risk for developing dry socket.

What Are the Dry Socket Red Flags?

The most obvious symptom of dry socket is intense pain. Wisdom tooth extraction on its own is often painful. Normal tooth removal pain should gradually decrease over time. Dry socket pain may have the reverse effect, worsening several days after surgery.
Along with pain, you may have an odd or unpleasant taste in your mouth or bad breath. It's also possible to see the empty socket or bone underneath, but the patient usually cannot see it on their own. Never poke, prod, or in any other way manually move your mouth around to investigate a possible dry socket. Instead, leave this exam to the dentist.

Should You See a Dentist for Dry Socket?

Any abnormal or worrisome pain following wisdom tooth extraction requires a professional consultation. If you suspect you have dry socket, arrange for a follow-up appointment. The dentist will then examine the area, determine whether you have dry socket, and recommend a treatment to relieve the pain.
Failure to get professional help may worsen the situation. If left untreated, the pain may intensify, food and other debris may get trapped in the area, or an infection may develop.

What Is the Treatment for Dry Socket?

The dentist will evaluate your specific condition and recommend a treatment plan. This may include rinsing the area with a medicated mouthwash or a saltwater mixture. You may also need to cover the area with medicated gauze, which can reduce the risk of infection and stop food and other debris from entering the socket.
Ice packs and anti-inflammatory or over-the-counter pain relievers can also help to relieve discomfort.
Do you need a wisdom tooth extraction? Contact Rabel Family Dental General Dentistry for more information.