Dry socket can be painful, but it can usually be prevented.
5 minute read
If your wisdom tooth is causing pain or other problems, your dentist may recommend having it removed. Wisdom tooth removal is a routine dental procedure that’s usually trouble-free, but if the mouth doesn’t heal properly following removal, this can lead to a complication known as dry socket.
Dry socket can be painful, but the good news is that it can usually be avoided when you follow your dentist’s advice and give your mouth the care it needs following wisdom tooth surgery. Read this guide to find out what causes dry socket, how it can be treated, and how to lower your risks.
When do wisdom teeth need to be removed?
Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to come through in the mouth and the most likely to develop problems. Wisdom teeth removal is not always necessary, but it may be recommended to prevent serious problems.
Dentists usually recommend removing wisdom teeth that are:
A wisdom tooth can become impacted when there is not enough space in the jaw for the new tooth to come through. Pressure from an impacted tooth in the gum can cause pain or discomfort. It may also lead to crowding or other alignment problems with the teeth or jaws if it’s left untreated.
If a wisdom tooth doesn’t come through all the way, this can also put pressure on the surrounding teeth and may leave the gum exposed to infection.
If a wisdom tooth erupts too far from the gum, or at the wrong angle, this can also put pressure on other teeth or may cause irritation or injuries in the mouth.
Dentists may also recommend removing a wisdom tooth if:
- the tooth is difficult to clean, putting it at risk of decay
- you have advanced gum disease or another infection
- you’re having orthodontic treatment
- you’re having jaw surgery or have a jaw problem
- you’re planning to get pregnant and want to prevent possible complications
Talk to your dentist
If you have wisdom tooth pain or other concerns, delaying treatment could lead to your symptoms getting worse or other problems developing. Book an appointment with your dentist so they can examine your mouth and discuss your treatment options.
What happens during wisdom tooth extraction?
If you choose to have a wisdom tooth removed, your dentist will explain what the procedure involves so you’ll know what to expect. Upper wisdom teeth are generally easier to remove than lower teeth, though this will depend on the type of wisdom tooth problem you have.
If the wisdom tooth has already erupted, removing it may be as simple as a general extraction. Removing an impacted wisdom tooth is more complex and involves minor surgery to remove the tooth from inside the gum. Some of the surrounding bone in the jaw may also need to be removed.
Like other dental treatments, wisdom teeth removal is carried out under local anaesthetic, so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. If you’re having a more complex extraction, or you have anxiety about dental treatments, your dentist may discuss sedation options for your treatment.
What to expect after a wisdom tooth is removed
You should get plenty of rest after wisdom tooth removal. Depending on how complex the procedure was, or how many teeth you had removed, you may need to take up to a week off work and should avoid other strenuous activities.
You may have soreness or swelling for up to a few days, which can be relieved by taking painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication. If pain doesn’t go away, or you have any unexpected symptoms, contact your dentist right away.
Complications from wisdom teeth removal are rare, especially if the surgery was performed by a qualified and experienced dentist and if you follow their advice during the recovery period. Possible complications can include infection of the extraction site or dry socket.
What is dry socket?
After a wisdom tooth is extracted, a blood clot will normally form inside the socket where the tooth used to be. This protects the bone and nerve while the gum heals. However, if this blood clot is dislodged, or fails to form, this will expose the socket to the air and bacteria.
Dry socket can be a painful condition due to the exposed nerve. The mouth may also be exposed to infection if it isn’t treated.
What are the symptoms of dry socket?
The most common sign of a dry socket is severe pain. It’s normal to feel mild pain or discomfort after having a wisdom tooth removed, but dry socket pain can be more intense and persistent. This pain usually begins 1 to 5 days after the extraction and may extend to the ear or eye on that side of the face.
If you have a dry socket, you might also notice bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth. You might also develop a mild fever if the socket is infected. In some cases, it may be possible to see the exposed bone inside the socket.
If you have any of these possible symptoms, it’s important to contact a dentist and book an appointment as soon as possible.
What causes dry socket?
Dry socket is a relatively rare complication of wisdom tooth removal, thought to occur in 1% to 4% of cases. A blood clot may be dislodged by trauma or rinsing the mouth too forcefully after surgery, or it may fail to form properly for other reasons.
Dry socket can affect people of all ages, but it may be more likely to develop if you:
- have poor oral hygiene
- are taking oral contraceptives
- have an existing infection in your mouth or problem with your jaw
- had a more complex wisdom tooth extraction
- have a history of dry socket with other wisdom teeth
Dry socket is more likely to occur after the removal of a wisdom tooth in the lower jaw than the upper jaw.
How do dentists treat dry socket?
Dry socket should be treated by a dentist as soon as possible. They will first rinse the area to make sure any food particles and other contaminants are removed, then cover the socket with a medicated dressing while it heals.
An x-ray will be recommended to determine whether you may have a related problem such as a bone infection that will also require treatment. Your dentist may prescribe pain relief or antibiotic medication and will advise you about how to care for your mouth while it heals.
How to prevent dry socket
You can lower your risk of developing dry socket after having a wisdom tooth removed by following your dentist’s instructions and taking good care of your mouth during the recovery period.
Take care when brushing and flossing your teeth after wisdom tooth extraction. Don’t brush the surrounding teeth until the next day and avoid brushing the extraction site itself for at least 3 days.
You can gently rinse your mouth after a tooth extraction, but take care not to rinse too vigorously, as this may disturb the blood clot. Your dentist may prescribe a special mouth rinse or they may recommend using a warm salt water solution.
Your dentist will recommend which foods you should avoid after having a wisdom tooth removed. This generally includes hard, chewy, sticky and crumbly foods that may interfere with the blood clot. Alcohol should also be avoided, as it can delay healing.
Soft and liquid foods can aid with healing and help to prevent dry socket. Healthy options include:
- Cottage cheese
- Hummus dip
- Mashed bananas
- Red lentil dhal
- Scrambled eggs
- Unsweetened yogurt
For more recommendations and tips, read our wisdom teeth removal diet guide.
Don’t use straws or spit
Sucking drinks through a straw and spitting create suction in the mouth that may cause a blood clot to come loose. Both should be avoided in the first 2 days after surgery.
Smoking and other forms of tobacco use reduce blood flow to the mouth. This can prevent a blood clot from forming and slow down the healing process. Smoking should be avoided for at least 48 hours, or preferably given up completely to reduce associated oral health and general health risks in the long term.
Take it easy
Try to get plenty of rest and avoid physical exertion for at least 24 hours after surgery, or longer if you’re able to or if you’ve had a more complex extraction. This can help to reduce bleeding and help the blood clot to form normally.
Book an appointment for wisdom tooth removal in Kelmscott
If you think you might need a wisdom tooth removed, or you’re worried you might have a dry socket, contact our experienced dentists at Kelmscott Dental today. We’ll examine your mouth, discuss your symptoms and recommend suitable treatments to relieve your pain and restore your oral health.
Call our local dental clinic in Kelmscott on (08) 9495 7999 or book an appointment online. We also welcome patients from nearby suburbs including Armadale and Gosnells.