Having a tooth pulled may be one of the most anxiety-inducing dental visits you will ever experience. But having the tooth pulled comes with an anesthetic of some sort, so you may feel nothing more than the prick of a needle (not pleasant, but tolerable). The true pain from having a tooth pulled comes from developing a dry socket (alveolar osteitis). The pain of alveolar osteitis can be unbearable, but it is almost always avoidable.
What Is Dry Socket?
The socket is the hole in the mouth left from the extraction of the tooth. It is typically protected by a clot that prevents the nerve from exposure to air and elements. According to the Mayo Clinic, dry socket occurs when the clot is dislodged before the extraction site has had a chance to heal. Once the clot is gone, the nerve is exposed to everything from the air you breathe to the food you eat, which can be extremely painful.
How Do I Treat It?
Over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain, but it can become so severe that you may need a prescription pain medicine from your dentist or oral surgeon. If you believe you have lost the clot from your extraction site, contact your dentist right away. The dentist may need to clean the socket and pack it with gauze to protect it. To prevent the risk of infection, you may need to take an antibiotic. At home, you may be asked to rinse regularly with salt water to encourage the socket to heal.
How Do I Avoid It?
The American Dental Association recommends avoiding drinking from a straw or smoking after having a tooth extracted. If you take birth control pills, the estrogen in the pills can prevent effective clotting, so talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about the best time of the month to perform the surgery. Be sure to disclose all medications to your dentist, even those taken over the counter, to make sure nothing you take will add to your risk of dry socket. Follow all of your dentist's recommended follow-up care after your tooth extraction and be sure to go to your post-extraction follow-up appointment to avoid any complications.