Dry socket, or alveolar osteitis, may develop after a permanent adult tooth is extracted.
It can occur when the blood clots at the site of extraction either dislodges, dissolves, or never develops prior to healing. This can leave your underlying bone and nerve endings exposed. It also allows the wound to become filled with food or debris, causing infection.
Symptoms of dry socket include:
- severe pain, which may radiate from the socket to your ear, eye, temple, or neck
- seeing an empty socket
- visible bone in the socket
- bad breath or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
The exact causes of dry socket still need more research. The most common causes are:
- bacterial infection
- difficult or complicated extractions, such as an impacted wisdom tooth
- trauma at the surgical site
You’re most at risk of developing dry socket if you:
- take oral contraceptives
- don’t follow proper wound care
There are different treatments available for dry socket that your dentist or oral surgeon can prescribe to you. When you have to wait to get into see them, however, these home treatments can help alleviate symptoms.
Warm salt water
Even if your oral surgeon gives you medication, they’ll also encourage you to rinse the affected area with warm salt water several times a day. It can help eliminate bacteria and reduce or prevent further infection.
The Mayo Clinic recommends dissolving ½ teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of warm water. Swish this around in your mouth for a minute, or use it to flush out the dry socket with a syringe your surgeon gives you. Do this at least three times per day or after meals.
Cold and heat therapy
For the first 24 hours after a tooth extraction, use cold packs against your face for fifteen minutes at a time to reduce swelling. Afterwards, you can use heat in the form of warm washcloths to manage pain.
Heat will likely be most beneficial for soothing pain caused by dry socket, though cold can help numb your nerves more efficiently. Test each and see what works best for you. Always use warm instead of hot, and place it against the cheek where you’re feeling pain.
Clove oil contains eugenol, which has anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial benefits. It can soothe pain and prevent infections from developing or advancing. Because of this, clove oil is sometimes used in professional dry socket pastes. Clove oil can have side effects, so consult your dentist or oral surgeon before using this as a home remedy.
These side effects may include:
- rash or skin irritation
- sore gums
- swollen gums
You can add clove oil to sterile gauze and apply it directly to the affected area. Only keep the gauze on for 20 minutes at a time until you’re sure that you won’t experience side effects.
Honey has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. A 2014 study found that honey dressings for dry socket resulted in a significant reduction in inflammation, edema, pain, and discomfort. It also showed evidence of preventing further infection.
To use honey to help dry socket, put raw honey on sterile gauze and place it directly on the affected area. Change the gauze every few hours if you keep it on consistently.
Black tea bags
Black tea contains tannic acid, which acts as a natural antibacterial agent while also reducing both swelling and pain.
To use this remedy, immerse a tea bag in a cup of boiling water for five minutes. Remove it and squeeze the excess water out after it’s cooled. The tea bag should be cooled for it to be effective. Sticking it in the refrigerator, not the freezer, can allow it to act as a cold compress.
You can gently bite down on the tea bag to keep it in place for about 15 minutes. Rinse your mouth with the remaining cool tea after the 15 minutes are over.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has antiseptic, antibacterial, and analgesic properties that make it a popular natural remedy.
Tea tree oil is available online and at many supermarkets. For this purpose, you should only use pure tea tree oil, and not simply products containing it.
You can add tea tree oil to sterile gauze and place it over the dry socket. Because it’s strong, it may be best to mix a drop or two of tea tree oil with honey or black tea when applying it to the gauze to reduce your risk of irritation.
Oregano oil has antibacterial benefits and may even be effective against some drug-resistant strains of bacteria. This applies to potential bacterial infections that are causing or developing in your dry socket.
You can apply oregano oil directly to the area, or put it on sterile gauze and leave it over your dry socket several times a day.
Chamomile has antioxidant properties which promote healing. Its anti-inflammatory benefits can immediately help soothe swelling and pain caused by dry socket. Most grocery stores will have it in stock if you don’t have it in your cupboard already.
You can utilize chamomile tea bags like black tea. Place the tea bag in boiling water for five minutes before removing it and letting it cool. Apply the tea bag to the affected area for 15 minutes. If this is uncomfortable, you can also sip on the tea once it’s cooled.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be effective at reducing both pain and swelling. They won’t be much help at treating or preventing an infection, but they can relieve pain until you can get to your doctor.
Talk with or call your dentist before you take any OTC medications. You should not take NSAIDs or any other OTC medication if you’re taking prescribed pain medications after your extraction. If you see your dentist for dry socket treatment, let them know what medications you’ve taken.
Avoid tobacco and other irritants
Smoking and other tobacco use increase your risk of developing dry socket and can also make it more difficult to treat. You should avoid all smoking and tobacco products while you’re treating and recovering from dry socket.
Other irritating foods and beverages should also be avoided, even if they’re liquid. Spicy foods and alcoholic beverages can increase discomfort. You should be eating soft foods to avoid opening or getting debris trapped in the socket.
Risks and side effects
Dry socket can be extremely painful, so it would be difficult to ignore. However, if it goes untreated, it could result in additional complications.
The most common complication is delayed healing. Additional medicated dressings and careful attention will be needed to make sure the dry socket heals properly.
Your socket can also become infected, and if left untreated, the infection can spread to your bone. This may require oral or intravenous antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading further.
There are few risks to utilizing home remedies to treat dry socket outside of allergic reactions, but you should talk with your doctor first to make sure these treatments are safe for you.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin using essential oils and use caution when choosing a quality brand. You should also always do a test patch before using.
Dry socket can be excruciatingly painful. As soon as symptoms arise, you should start treatment. While you’re waiting to see your oral surgeon, you can utilize home remedies detailed above to manage your symptoms and pain.
Fortunately, while dry socket is painful, it responds quickly to treatment. Your symptoms should start decreasing soon after treatment, and they should be entirely gone in three to four days. If not, make another appointment with your dentist to look for a better solution.