Dry sockets can often occur after a routine tooth extraction, which your dentist might suggest for problems with incoming wisdom teeth, a damaged tooth, a cavity, or even just overcrowding. But if you take care of your mouth in the days following your extraction, your recovery should be equally quick and easy, with none of the pain that comes with dry sockets.
What is a dry socket?
When your dentist removes a tooth, your body treats it like any other wound, creating a blood clot to protect the newly exposed bone and nerves. If the blood clot is disturbed or dislodged (leaving your empty tooth socket “dry”), it leaves your nerves and bones vulnerable to pain and contamination by bacteria. This will slow down your recovery process, and it can also leave you in a lot of discomfort.
Your dentist can always apply new dressings to help improve clotting and speed up your healing process, but prevention can help you to avoid dry sockets altogether.
How do I prevent dry sockets?
Don’t worry — preventing dry sockets isn’t too complex. As long as you care for the extraction site properly, you’ll soon be back to normal. Here are 5 ways to keep your gums clean and healthy during the extraction recovery process.
- Avoid touching the extraction site.
Do not stick your fingers, tongue, or toothbrush in or around the extraction site, as it could dislodge the blood clot and set you up for dry socket or potential infection. It’s tempting to feel around the site, but try to resist!
- Follow your dentist’s care instructions.
Your dentist will provide you with specific instructions and prescriptions to use in the days following your tooth extraction. Make sure you know exactly what to do and which medications to use at what times.
- Stick to water and soft foods.
For at least a week (or however long your dentist recommends) after your tooth extraction, avoid crunchy or sticky foods that could potentially hurt or get stuck in the empty tooth socket. Stick to soft foods, like broth, mashed potatoes, or pudding. In addition, drink lots of water but avoid sugary, carbonated, or caffeinated beverages. Additionally, do not use straws, as the suction from the straw could dislodge the blood clot.
- Do not use tobacco.
Tobacco use is one of the most common causes of dry sockets. The Mayo Clinic warns that smoking or chewing tobacco within 48 hours of surgery slows down your healing process significantly, and can have very painful repercussions. Smoking brings bacteria into the extraction site, and chewing tobacco will disturb your blood clot, which could lead to dry socket.
- Practice great oral hygiene.
Your dentist will tell you to wait at least 24 hours before you clean the extraction site to allow the blood clot to form, but you can still softly brush your other teeth and your tongue. After that, you can rinse your mouth with a gentle antibacterial mouthwash to get rid of germs.
Plan to take some time off after your tooth extraction. You will need to recuperate from the effects of the anesthesia. Avoid physical activities that could disturb your mouth or require a mouthguard. The best thing you can do during your recovery period is to take it easy!
- Be mindful of potential symptoms.
You will probably be taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen regularly for the pain, but make sure to contact your dentist immediately if the pain worsens, feels like it is radiating through your face, or is accompanied by swelling, redness, or fever.
- Before the procedure, tell your dentist about any and all prescriptions you are taking.
Certain medications can heighten your risk for dry sockets, so always be sure to let your dentist know.
Remember: when in doubt, call your dentist. Tooth extraction sites are especially vulnerable to infection, so you must be extra careful.
If you have any questions or concerns about an upcoming tooth extraction, dry sockets, or your current healing process, contact our office today!