There are many things to take into consideration when having wisdom teeth removed. One of the most common concerns is the potential for a dry socket following extraction. However, the risk of a dry socket can be minimized with a proper understanding of what it is, potential risk factors, and the preventative measures available.
What Is a Dry Socket?
Alveolar osteitis (dry socket) is a condition that occurs when blood doesn't clot properly at the tooth extraction site or the clot moves or dissolves prematurely. The blood clot serves an essential purpose in protecting an empty tooth socket's otherwise exposed bone and nerve endings. Over time, it also aids in the development of new tissue over the clot.
There is some amount of discomfort that is normal following wisdom tooth extraction. However, some signs and symptoms that a dry socket may have developed include:
- Exposed bone - bone that is visible in the socket
- Radiating pain - pain that moves from the socket to the eye, ear, or neck on the corresponding side of the face
- Odor - bad breath or odor from the mouth
- Severe pain - new or unmanageable pain within a few days of an extraction
- Empty socket - a socket that appears empty, without a blood clot
While a dry socket can undoubtedly be very uncomfortable, it rarely causes any significant complications. The most severe complications may include delayed healing or infection, both of which can be remediated by your dental professional.
Some risk factors increase the possibility of developing a dry socket. If you fall into one of these categories, enhanced awareness of possible symptoms is warranted.
- Previous infection - past tooth or gum infections
- Oral contraceptives - estrogen levels that can affect the healing process
- Past dry socket - previous instances of dry socket
- Smoking or tobacco - can slow or prevent healing and potentially displace a blood clot
Despite increased risk factors, the probability of severe complications from a dry socket is small. Even if a dry socket occurs, adequate awareness of symptoms can lead to quick treatment and minimal discomfort.
What Can You Do to Prevent Dry Socket?
You and your dentist or oral surgeon are a team. Your dental professional will take many steps to decrease the probability of a dry socket, such as disinfecting the mouth before surgery with an antibacterial mouthwash, applying antiseptic to the empty socket, using medicated dressings after surgery, and potentially prescribing antibiotics, depending on your circumstances.
You can also take measures before and after surgery to provide the best possible environment for healing after your wisdom tooth extraction.
The process of wisdom tooth extraction begins well before surgery. From the first phone call to the last follow-up visit, preparation is key.
- Choose an oral surgeon. Finding an experienced oral surgeon that makes you feel at ease is an important first step. Whether you have one or a list of questions, your oral surgery team should be willing to address them all and provide you with confidence that you are in good hands. Make sure your surgeon is in-network for your insurance and discuss any out-of-pocket costs beforehand to prevent any confusion later.
- Consider timing. If the extraction is for a child or young adult, consider removal during summer or fall break if possible. If not, try to make arrangements for school work well in advance so the student can focus on healing immediately following surgery. If the extraction is for an adult, schedule a time that will be the least disruptive to work and home to minimize stress during the healing process.
- Adjust medications. Consult with your oral surgeon regarding any medications that may need to be reduced or temporarily halted that may interfere with blood clotting.
- Smoking and tobacco cessation. If you are considering permanent cessation of tobacco use, prior to your wisdom teeth removal would be a great time to start. Your doctor or dentist may be able to offer information regarding programs to help you continue your journey to be tobacco-free.
Taking care of yourself after your wisdom tooth extraction is the best way to minimize the risk of dry socket.
Rest for the remainder of the day of your surgery, and don't resume normal activities until after the time period recommended by your surgeon. This is a difficult task for many people, but excess activity can dislodge the blood clot that prevents dry socket. Follow your surgeon's pain management instructions to avoid unnecessary pain and avoid tobacco use for at least 48 hours after surgery, preferably as long as possible, as tobacco products can hinder the healing process.
Only soft foods should be consumed the first day following surgery. Be especially careful before the anesthesia wears off. Add in foods as tolerated after the first day but avoid chewing on the side of the mouth that was affected while healing. Drinking with a straw should be avoided to prevent the sucking action from loosening the blood clot. Drink lots of water and avoid hot, caffeinated, and sugary drinks as long as recommended.
Gently rinse your mouth several times a day with warm salt water for the first week following your surgery. You may carefully brush your teeth but be careful to avoid the surgery site for at least 24 hours.
By providing the best environment for the surgery site to heal, you reduce pain, the time required to recover, and the risk of dry socket.
Worry-Free Wisdom Teeth Removal
There is no reason to be concerned about dry socket as long as you understand its causes and the actions you can take to prevent it. Dry socket is largely preventable and easily treatable. The damage that can occur from avoiding wisdom tooth extraction far outweighs the risk of a dry socket.
North Shore Smile Surgery's in-house wisdom teeth removal in a comfortable atmosphere and our oral surgeon's 30 years of experience take the worry out of wisdom teeth removal. We are in-network with most dental insurances and have the latest in dental technology. We pride ourselves on providing quality care for our patients from procedure to follow-up. You can find out more about wisdom teeth removal from our free wisdom teeth eBook.
Contact us for more information on how Dr. Scott Frank and the team at North Shore Smile Surgery combine expert knowledge and compassionate care before, during, and after your wisdom teeth removal!