Dry socket is the most common complication following a tooth extraction. Tooth extraction involves removing your tooth from its socket in your jawbone. After a tooth extraction, you’re at risk of developing dry socket. This risk is present until you’re fully healed, which may take 7 to 10 days in many cases.

Dry socket occurs when the blood clot that should have formed in the socket after your extraction is either accidentally removed or never formed in the first place.

Dry socket is no longer a risk once the site is healed. Ask your dentist when they expect you to be fully healed. Based on your health history and how your surgery went, they can give you the best timeframe for reference.

These tips may improve your recovery and reduce your risk of dry socket:

  • Follow your body’s signs and doctor’s orders on recovery. You may need to wait until you’re fully recovered before resuming normal activities.
  • Plan to take the whole day off from work or school following your extraction.
  • As your pain decreases, try slowly getting back into your routine. Stop any activity if you suddenly have more pain.

Pain, swelling, and bleeding should all decrease steadily in the first week. Read on to learn more about dry socket signs, prevention, and treatment.

Normally, a blood clot forms over your empty socket. This clot protects the wound while it heals and promote new tissue growth.

Without a blood clot over your socket, raw tissue, nerve endings, and bone are exposed. This can be painful and over-the-counter pain relievers are sometimes not enough to help.

Symptoms of dry socket include:

  • severe pain that can’t be controlled by over-the-counter medications
  • pain extending across the side of your face from where your tooth was pulled
  • lack of blood clot over your socket
  • visible bone in your socket
  • bad taste, smell, or the presence of pus in your mouth, which may be possible signs of infection

It’s normal for you to feel sore and swollen the first day after surgery. You may also see small amounts of blood on your gauze dressing. If your pain increases, doesn’t improve, or you notice any of the symptoms noted above, see your dentist right away.

The American Dental Association recommends you keep gauze over your extraction site for 30 to 45 minutes after surgery. This encourages a blood clot to form and can help prevent dry socket. If you smoke, you may ask for a special oxidized cellulose dental dressing to help prevent dry socket.

You should be very gentle with your mouth until the site is totally healed. Eat soft foods and chew on the opposite side of your mouth from your extraction. You may not be able to tell when you’re completely healed, so err on the side of caution.

For 24 hours after surgery, avoid:

  • smoking
  • eating nuts, seeds, and crunchy foods which can get stuck in the socket
  • drinking very hot or acidic beverages, such as coffee, soda, or orange juice, which can disintegrate your blood clot
  • sucking motions such as slurping soup or using a straw
  • vigorous mouth rinsing
  • alcohol and mouthwash containing alcohol
  • brushing or flossing your teeth surrounding the socket

Ask your dentist if you should stop taking oral contraceptives if you have a tooth extraction. Some studies show these medications may increase your chance of developing dry socket.

Dry socket pain usually starts a few days after surgery. Call your doctor immediately if:

  • your pain suddenly increases
  • you develop fever, nausea, or vomiting

Most dentists have an answering service even after office hours are closed.

Dry sockets require a return trip to your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Your dentist will clean the wound and apply medication for immediate pain relief. They’ll replace the gauze and give you detailed instructions for keeping the site clean and safe. You may be given a special mouthwash, antibiotics, or prescription pain medication.

Treating dry socket starts your healing process all over again, so it will take a few days for it to heal. Closely follow your doctor’s instructions for at-home recovery to help dry socket heal properly.

Dry socket is the most common complication following a tooth extraction. Trauma to the blood clot and extraction site can cause severe pain. Certain factors such as smoking may increase your risk.

Dry socket is treatable by a doctor and you will likely feel immediate relief after treatment. Call your doctor right away if you experience any complications after a tooth extraction.