Dry Sockets: What Are They and How Can You Avoid Them?

Nobody really wants to lose a natural tooth, but sometimes extractions are necessary to solve oral health problems or prevent problems from occurring. Thanks to advances in extraction methods, having a tooth pulled is a straightforward process. But sometimes, a complication called dry socket can occur after an extraction. 

Dry socket is a painful condition that can interfere with healing. But with the right steps, it can be avoided. And if the condition does occur, Brandon Kang, DDS, Matt Chroust, DDS, MD, and the team at Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center in Oakland and San Francisco, California, can help relieve your symptoms and ensure the extraction site heals properly.

How dry socket occurs

When you have a tooth pulled, it leaves an opening where the tooth was located. This is the socket. Normally, a blood clot forms in the socket. The clot protects the socket while it heals, and the tissue that surrounded the tooth closes over. 

After the clot forms, it stays firmly in place — unless something dislodges it. If that happens, the socket is no longer protected, creating what’s known as dry socket. Once the clot is gone, the socket is exposed to cold air, food, and bacteria, all of which can cause pain and delay the healing process. Also called alveolar osteitis, most cases of dry socket occur in the first three to five days after an extraction.

Avoiding dry socket

Preventing dry socket means taking steps to protect the clot and prevent it from coming loose. The good news is, those steps are easy to take.

Don’t use straws

After an extraction, using a straw might seem like a good way to prevent cold liquids from touching the sensitive extraction site. But actually, a straw creates pretty strong suction in your mouth — strong enough to easily dislodge that protective blood clot. Skip the straws, hard candy, and any other food or activity that encourages sucking or creates suction.

Stick to soft foods at first

Soft foods like yogurt, smoothies, pudding, mashed potatoes, or soup help protect the socket in the early stages of healing. Try to avoid hard or chewy foods, both of which can cause the clot to break free.

Be careful when brushing

Maintaining good oral health habits is important for promoting healing and preventing a buildup of bacteria. After an extraction, it’s super important to brush very gently to avoid disturbing the protective clot. In fact, depending on your needs, we might advise you to simply swish water gently rather than brushing during the first 24 hours of healing as an added precaution.

Rinse gently

When you do rinse, do so gently — don’t swish vigorously. And when you spit, don’t be forceful — just let the water out of your mouth to avoid creating suction.

Stop smoking

Smoking interferes with healing, which is a good reason to stop smoking before any dental or medical procedure and during the healing period. But for tooth extractions, it’s even more important to stop smoking. That’s because smoking creates the same suction problem as using a straw, which means if you smoke, your risk of dislodging the clot and suffering from dry socket is much higher.

Control swelling

You can help the extraction site heal more quickly by applying an ice pack to the outside of your cheek over the extraction site. Wrap the pack in cloth and only apply it for 20 minutes at a time.

Advanced care for better oral health

Pacific Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center is dedicated to helping patients of all ages enjoy the best possible oral health. Our team is skilled in state-of-the-art tooth extraction techniques, providing the care and support needed for optimal results. To learn more, call our office most convenient to you or request an appointment online today.

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