Dental Care

Symptoms of Dry Socket

What are the symptoms of dry socket? You made the choice to have a tooth pulled because you just wanted the pain and swelling to stop.

Now that the extraction is over, you were hoping to feel a lot better; instead you have round the clock pain at the extraction site. What is going on?

Pain following the removal of a tooth is usually the first of the key symptoms of dry socket.


What On Earth Is Dry Socket?

Picture your tooth…it has the crown (which is the part used for chewing) and then it has the roots. Those roots are usually embedded in the jaw bone and are also surrounded by soft connective tissue.

When that tooth is removed, it will cause a great deal of bleeding, but this is good because that blood is meant to form a clot over the bone and to instigate the healing process.

The healing process after a tooth extraction will have to include the tissue of the gum growing back together and also remaining connected to the jaw.

Sometimes, that essential clot fails to form or is lost due to some sort of problem, and this leaves the site exposed and unable to heal. Thus you have dry socket.

What is unusual about the symptoms of dry socket is that they can be detected only a few days after the extraction occurs. This usually means that most patients are entering into what they feel is the recovery stage of the process, with pain diminishing over the few days after the tooth was pulled.

Suddenly, the pain reappears and begins to increase substantially, and this is normally the first of the classic symptoms of dry socket.

Top Symptoms of Dry Socket

What are some of the other symptoms of dry socket? It is fairly common for the patient to find that they have incredibly strong and bad breath within only a day of developing the condition, but this is often preceded by a very unpleasant smell or taste in their mouth.

Generally, this has to do with the development of debris and bacteria in the open wound, but this does not mean that infection is present. There may even be some sort of fluid development, but this is not usually a material related to an infection, at least not during the first two days following the extraction.

In fact, among the symptoms of dry socket, you will never see any mention of infection. This is because dry socket as a condition is not an infection at all.

Instead, an untreated case of dry socket can easily lead to a serious infection at a later point in time. This is only one of the reasons that patients with dry socket may be treated with an antibiotic, but that will not actually address the condition, and will only kill off the problematic bacteria.

Finally, one of the more unusual, but conclusive symptoms of dry socket is a serious level of pain that seems to radiate to or from the ear. This is another indication that the bone and tissue are exposed to air and bacteria, and that the irritation being caused is now transferring to the surrounding nerves.

This “symptom” is actually known as “referred pain” and is simply the nerve endings near the tooth sending pain along the mandibular or maxillary nerves.

Frequency of Dry Socket

Many people wonder who the most likely candidates for dry socket might be, and there is actually a surprising list of people who should be warned to watch for the symptoms of dry socket following a dental procedure.

Roughly 1% to 3% of extractions lead to dry socket, and among them the following patients are more likely to suffer the condition:

  • Those having lower molars extracted – around 20% of dry socket cases are those involving lower teeth and lower wisdom teeth;
  • Patients with a history of dry socket – though the primary causes for dry socket have yet to be accurately pinned down, it is known that those who have suffered from the condition in the past are more likely to deal with it again;
  • Smokers – studies have shown that smokers are four times more likely to deal with dry socket than non-smokers, and most believe that it is related to bacterial issues and/or the pressures created inside of the mouth by sucking on a cigarette;
  • Women using oral contraceptives – birth control pills seem to have links to dry socket, and most believe that it is the estrogen content that allows the blood clot to disintegrate easily. It is believed that roughly 20% of women with dry sockets are also oral contraceptive users; and
  • Patients dealing with a traumatic tooth extraction – when the conditions leading up to the loss of a tooth are not heavily controlled (such as the case with an accident) there is a higher likelihood that the body will respond in a way that prevents the necessary clot from remaining in place.

If you are someone with any these risk factors, your dentist is going to warn you to be on the watch for the initial symptoms of dry socket. They may even ask you to visit them within a day or two of the extraction in order to have a secondary examination for the condition.

Remember, the symptoms of dry socket include serious pain, and though this is some of the most intense discomfort imaginable, most patients say that it actually diminishes over time.

This, however, does not mean that it is a sign of healing. If you have had a tooth extracted, feel as if you are healing, and then begin to suffer nearly intolerable pain, you must head to your dentist immediately.

A dry socket is not just a painful condition; it is also a very risky one because it can jeopardize the health of the surrounding teeth, tissue, and jaw. It is relatively simple to treat, but should be dealt with at the signs of the first symptoms.


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