How can a dental emergency go from bad to worse? When you have a tooth extracted, you can end up with a painful complication called "dry socket" that can leave you feeling worse than you did before your tooth was removed. Learn more about this dental dilemma and how to prevent it.
What Is A "Dry Socket"?
The technical term for "dry socket" is alveolar osteitis, and it effects between 3% - 5% of patients after a tooth extraction. It's especially common in patients who have to have a molar or wisdom tooth removed from the lower jaw.
When you have a tooth extracted, what normally happens is that a blood clot forms in the tooth socket, or the hole in the bone where the tooth's roots were. If the blood clot doesn't properly form - or gets dislodged - there's nothing there to act as a barrier to keep bacteria, fluid, and foods away from sensitive nerve endings.
What Causes It?
Sometimes there's simply no obvious cause for the condition, and no way to predict that dry socket will occur. Women are more likely to develop them than men, and older patients are more likely to have them than younger ones. However, your dentist will likely have asked you to refrain from a few activities for a while after your tooth extraction, including:
- drinking hot liquids or eating soup
- drinking through a straw
- drinking carbonated beverages
- rinsing or spitting
- taking aspirin or other blood thinners
All of those activities can cause you to have problems forming a blood clot, or cause the blood clot to dislodge, leaving bare bone exposed.
How Do You Know You Have It?
The number one indicator of a dry socket is that your dental pain gets worse in the days following the tooth extraction, not better. If your tooth pain initially gets better post-extraction, and then worsens again within a day or two, there's a strong chance that you've developed a dry socket.
Other symptoms include a foul taste in your mouth, severe bad breath, swelling along your jawline and an earache on the same side of your face where the tooth was removed.
How Is It Treated?
The good news is that the pain will stop almost as soon as your dentist says, "Open wide!" Typically, a dentist will pack the socket with sterile gauze and an oil of clove ointment to kill bacteria and keep the bone protected until it can begin to heal. In severe cases, you may need antibiotics and pain killers.
Your dentist will need to see you every few days to remove and repack the dressing, and check on the progress of the healing wound, until it looks like healing has progressed enough so that you no longer need new dressing.
A bacterial infection can set in and become life-threatening if the dry socket is left untreated, so don't hesitate to seek emergency treatment from a dental office like Redwood Dental Centre if you suspect that you've developed one, especially if you have a fever or feel dizzy. Take steps, however, to minimize the likelihood of a problem by following your dentist's post-extraction instructions carefully.