Dry Socket Complicates Healing
When a wisdom tooth doesn’t have room to grow in your mouth, your dentist will recommend a tooth extraction. Even when you can’t see your wisdom teeth, a partially or fully impacted tooth can lead to severe symptoms requiring emergency dental care.
Extracting a wisdom tooth or teeth is a surgical procedure that often requires stitches. The tooth can sometimes be trapped under the gum or bone tissue, so when the tooth is removed, it leaves behind a hole or socket.
Most people recover from wisdom tooth extraction within a few days, but it can take a few months to heal completely. During the healing process, the extraction hole slowly closes over. A rare but uncomfortable condition that can slow healing and prevent full recovery is dry socket.
What Is Dry Socket?
Alveolar osteitis or dry socket is a complication that can happen after an adult tooth extraction. Dry socket is a rare complication, but it’s more likely to develop after removing a molar—including wisdom teeth—than other tooth extractions. It’s also more likely if you’ve had dry socket before.
Molars are your biggest, strongest teeth. When removing a molar, the empty space is larger than incisors or canines. After removing a tooth, a blood clot forms to protect the hole (socket) during healing. Dry socket occurs when the blood clot does not form correctly or is dislodged.
While it can be more difficult for a clot to cover the larger space created by a molar, it’s still rare even with wisdom tooth removal.
Dry socket can be painful, but it also poses additional risks. Without the protective blood clot, the nerves and bone are exposed. As a result, untreated dry socket can lead to severe complications, including:
- Delayed healing
- Infection in the socket
- Infection that spreads to the bone
Dry socket usually develops 3-5 days following surgery and can last up to 7 days. Symptoms include:
- Throbbing or radiating pain
- Pain radiating up to the external ear (periauricular area)
- An initial pain decrease followed by a sudden severe increase
What Causes Dry Socket?
Dry socket is challenging to prevent because it can occur because of multiple factors. However, patients can limit their risk of developing dry socket by following their surgeon’s aftercare instructions.
Notably, patients are more likely to experience dry socket if they have a medical condition or take medication that affects clotting. For example, smoking and birth control pills can interfere with clotting.
During recovery, your dentist may recommend additional treatment options to promote healing and prevent infection. Depending on your risk factors, your surgeon or dentist may recommend:
- Antibacterial mouthwash
- Antiseptic rinse
- Medicated gauze
- Medicated gel
Can Stitches Prevent Dry Socket?
After removing a wisdom tooth, an oral surgeon uses stitches (sutures) to prevent excess bleeding from the incision site and help support healing. The stitches attach to the gums and stabilize the tissue.
Stitches help close a wound and protect the tissue from infection. The improved stabilization and closure prevent the blood clot from being dislodged. Using stitches after tooth extraction can help prevent complications during healing, including dry socket.
Oral surgeons often use dissolving stitches. The stitches disintegrate naturally, eliminating the need to remove them. It can take between a few weeks up to a month for the sutures to disappear, depending on:
- Stitch size and type
- Stitch material
- The extent of the procedure
Less commonly, an oral surgeon may use removable stitches. The stronger stitches cannot be absorbed by the body and must be removed, typically 7–10 days after the surgery. Your surgeon will tell you when to return for stitch removal when necessary.
Preventing Dry Socket
Your oral surgeon will provide detailed instructions on caring for your incision and stitches. Keeping your stitches and extraction area clean prevents infection and promotes healing. In particular, anything that causes suction in your mouth can potentially dislodge a blood clot or your stitches.
Some activities you should avoid include:
- Drinking alcohol
- Drinking hot liquids
- Strenuous activity or exercise
- Using a straw
Stitches can sometimes come loose or stick out. In most cases, some shifting is normal but can be a cause of concern if:
- The wound opens or is bleeding
- You notice signs of infection (redness, discharge, pain)
- The stitch irritates gums or cheeks
Never pull on or remove a loose stitch. Instead, talk to your oral surgeon as soon as possible as they can offer a solution. Contact your surgeon for emergency dental care if you experience bleeding, sudden pain, or increased swelling.
Treating Dry Socket
Dry socket must be treated by a dentist. First, your dentist will clean the socket to prevent infection and prescribe treatment to alleviate discomfort. Then, your dentist may pack the socket with medical dressing and apply medicated gel or paste to protect the socket.
The symptoms of dry socket can be painful and pose risks to long-term oral health. Please contact us for care after your wisdom teeth extraction. Your smile is our top priority!
At Symmetry Dental, we’re committed to listening to our patients and delivering personalized care for their long-term oral health. We want you to feel welcome and comfortable from the moment you enter.
Our team is proud to be a long-standing part of the Calgary community. Request an appointment to discuss wisdom teeth or dental care services.