Dry Socket

Inflammation of a tooth socket that will not heal after extraction of the tooth

  • Smoking and taking oral contraceptives are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

After a tooth is extracted, the tooth socket fills with blood. The blood clots and provides the framework for healing the socket. If the clot is washed away for some reason, such as by overvigorous rinsing, or if the clot becomes infected, the bony lining of the socket can become inflamed, a condition that is known as “dry socket” or post-extraction alveolitis. Dry socket occurs after about 1 in 25 tooth extractions and is more common following a difficult extraction of a molar tooth from the lower jaw. The condition occurs more frequently in people who smoke and in women taking oral contraceptives.

The symptoms of dry socket may include a severe, throbbing pain that commonly radiates to the ear 2–4 days after extraction of the tooth, a bad taste in the mouth, and bad breath. The tooth socket may only partly heal, and occasionally small pieces of bone may come out of the tooth socket.

What might be done?

Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics after extracting a tooth to help to prevent the tooth socket from becoming infected. If after a few days the socket is not healing or you are still feeling pain, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. While waiting for an appointment, you can relieve symptoms with over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol.

To treat dry socket, your dentist may initially wash out the tooth socket with warm salt water or a dilute antiseptic solution. He or she will then pack the socket with antiseptic paste. This treatment is repeated every 2–3 days until the tooth socket begins to heal. Your dentist may also suggest that you use hot saltwater mouthwashes at home to help to reduce the inflammation. The socket should start to heal within a few days, and healing should be complete within a few weeks.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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