What Does a Dry Socket Look Like?

What Does a Dry Socket Look Like?
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What Does a Dry Socket Look Like?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. What does it look like?
  2. Risk Factors & Symptoms
  3. Treating Dry Socket
  4. Lowering Your Risk
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
  6. References

When you have your wisdom teeth removed or you have a tooth removed as an adult, your dentist may warn you about a condition called dry socket. This occurs when infection sets into the root pulp area where a tooth used to be.

You can experience serious pain in your mouth for up to five days if you develop dry socket, due to exposed nerves, gums, and even bone.

The medical term for dry socket is alveolar osteitis. It is most common in people who have had their wisdom teeth removed.

In a healthy post-surgery mouth, a blood clot forms on the gums to begin healing tissue in the area, protecting the nerve and bone underneath. If the blood clot fails to form or becomes dislodged, the exposure can be painful and take much longer to heal. It can also become infected.

What does dry socket look like?

Dry Socket Appearance

Dry socket looks like a substantial hole at the site where the tooth was removed. This hole occurs because the blood clot has been dislodged. The bone may be visible in the hole.

While some people may be able to see this hole, it takes a professional to diagnose the issue. It can be difficult to see well inside your own mouth, even with use of a mirror.

Risk factors and symptoms of dry socket.

Dry socket is diagnosed by a dentist. It looks like an exposed socket where a tooth used to be, but the blood clot is missing. If you open your mouth, you might be able to see this, but a medical professional will be able to officially diagnose dry socket.

You are at higher risk for developing dry socket if you:

  • Smoke and do not stop while your socket heals.
  • Have generally poor oral health.
  • Have a difficult tooth extraction.
  • Take hormones, which can interfere with the healing process.
  • Have had dry socket in the past.
  • Drink from a straw while the socket heals.
  • Vigorously rinse and spit while the socket heals.

After you have a tooth extracted, you may have some moderate pain in the area for a few days afterward. Your dentist may prescribe painkillers or recommend a specific dose of over-the-counter painkillers. If pain gets worse or lasts longer than two to three days, you may have developed dry socket.

Symptoms of dry socket include:

  • Pain that becomes severe within one to three days after a tooth is pulled.
  • Pain that radiates from your ear or eye, temple, neck, or side of your jaw or face where the tooth was pulled.
  • Bad taste in your mouth.
  • Bad breath, halitosis, or an odor coming from your mouth.
  • Slight fever associated with infection.

If you develop these symptoms, get in touch with your dentist for a follow-up appointment. Do not ignore these symptoms because your gums and jaw can become infected, which puts your overall health at greater risk.

Pain from dry socket alone can last up to seven days total. If you do not get the right care, you may suffer longer from infected bone or tissue.

Treating dry socket.

Go to your dentist for treatment. A medical professional can help you manage the symptoms of dry socket and avoid infection. About 45 percent of people who develop dry socket need medical intervention to manage it, so do not delay.

Your dentist will clean out the area, flushing out food particles or other material that has collected in the socket. They will fill the socket with medical paste, and use a dressing to seal it and promote healing. You may need to return to your dentist in a few days or weeks to have the dressing changed.

You may get a prescription for antibiotics, which might be oral pills or a special antibiotic mouthwash. If the pain from dry socket is severe, you may also receive a prescription for pain medication or an irrigation solution. This can help to manage the pain for a few days, until the socket begins to heal.

At home, you can care for your oral health by using all prescriptions according to your dentist’s instructions and closely following their care instructions. If swelling or inflammation causes discomfort, you can gently apply a cold compress to your face, near the affected socket.

Do not put a piece of ice or a cold compress inside your mouth. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol while you heal.

Lowering your risk of dry socket.

Many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. It is a very common dental practice in the United States. Proper care after this common extraction greatly reduces your risk of developing dry socket.

If you need to have more teeth pulled due to injury or infection, you are at risk for getting dry socket every time. Practicing good oral hygiene, including getting regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist, means you are less likely to suffer pain or infection in your mouth.

Frequently Asked Questions

How quickly does a dry socket form?
A dry socket is a complication that develops after the extraction of a wisdom tooth. It usually forms three to five days after the extraction, although it can take a few days longer. Formation happens when the blood clot that is supposed to develop after an extraction does not develop or else falls off before the wound heals properly. The clot protects the bone and nerves in the gum. When it does not form dry socket develops.
Will dry socket heal on its own?

In cases in which you treat symptoms at home, a dry socket often heals on its own, although it can last as long as to seven days. Home treatment involves flushing the with a saline solution and covering the area with gauze. You will want to get a plastic syringe to help with the flushing. If your condition is severe, you will need to change the dressing a couple of times.

Pain is often severe, especially during the first 24 to 72 hours, necessitating a visit to the dentist for most patients. Even over-the-counter painkillers may not be sufficient. You may need several visits to manage the pain.

Medication is also part of the treatment, and it may include antibiotics to provide pain relief, and in case of mild symptoms, then over-the-counter pain killers can help. In a significant number of cases, though, prescription medicine is used. A dentist's treatment can reduce the number of days it takes for a socket to heal.

What color is a dry socket?

A socket looks like a hole in the place where the tooth was extracted. In most cases, the bone in the socket or the area around it becomes exposed, giving it a different color from the rest of the gum and teeth. Because there is no blood clot formed, it appears dry, empty and with a seemingly white or bone-like color.

If food and bacteria have gotten into the socket, it can display different colors: yellow, green or black. It is also possible for some patients not to see a clear dry socket. They will only see a hole.

References.

Dry Socket Etiology, Diagnosis, and Clinical Treatment Techniques. (April 2018). Journal of the Korean Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Dry Socket. (October 2018). MedlinePlus.

How Do I Manage a Patient With Dry Socket? (April 2013). Canadian Dental Association.

Dry Socket. (July 2019). Kaiser Permanente.

An Overview of Dry Socket and Its Management. (May 2014). IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences.

How Do I Manage a Patient with Dry Socket? (April 2013). Canadian Dental Association.

Alveolar Osteitis: a comprehensive review of concepts and controversies. (June 2010). International Journal of Dentistry.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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