If you've ever had a dry socket after a tooth extraction, it's safe to say you'll never want to experience it again. The best way to prevent this complication is to follow your dentist's post-operative instructions and avoid anything that might affect healing. But if you're unfortunate enough to end up with a dry socket, your dentist may treat it with dry socket paste for instant relief.
What Is a Dry Socket?
Anytime you have a tooth removed, the normal healing process involves a blood clot forming in the empty tooth socket. The clot protects the bone and nerve endings that have been exposed and aids in healing. A dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis, occurs when either the blood clot is dislodged or dissolves before the extraction site heals, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While a dry socket can occur anytime a tooth is removed, an article in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association (JCDA) explains it is much more common with wisdom teeth extractions and tends to happen more frequently in the lower jaw, as well as more often in women.
Treating a Dry Socket with Paste
The tell-tale sign that you may have a dry socket is an intense throbbing pain that may radiate to your temple, ear, eye area or neck. Managing a dry socket with over-the-counter medications won't give you the relief you need, so visit your dentist at the first sign of a dry socket for treatment.
After flushing the socket to remove food and debris, your dentist will pack it with a medicated dressing in the form of a paste. One of the ingredients in dry socket paste is eugenol, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Eugenol is present in clove oil, which acts as an anesthetic and has antiinflammatory and antibacterial properties. The NIH advises that dry socket paste is not for unsupervised home use, so do not apply it yourself.
The primary treatment for a dry socket is pain management, so in addition to the paste, your dentist may prescribe painkillers and send you home with directions on how to use ice packs and rinse gently with a saltwater solution. You still need to brush your teeth, so be particularly careful and use a toothbrush, such as a Colgate Wave Gum Comfort. This toothbrush has curved, soft outer bristles to clean gum margin and firmer inner bristles to effectively clean teeth.
Preventing a Dry Socket
Prevention is always the best medicine, and there are steps you and your dentist can take (before and after surgery) to help you avoid discomfort.
The Academy of General Dentistry warns that smoking and using tobacco products increases your risk of developing a dry socket, by decreasing the blood supply to the newly formed clot. Stop smoking prior to your surgery and don't smoke for at least 24 to 48 hours. The JCDA recommends abstaining from smoking for six weeks after surgery.
Inform your dentist about any of your medications that might interfere with normal blood clotting, whether over-the-counter, prescription or supplements. If you use oral contraceptives, keep in mind that estrogen may disrupt the clotting process.
Now that you understand the fragile healing process after an extraction, you can take precautions to avoid complications. If after surgery you experience any pain, call your dentist or oral surgeon right away. Luckily, a packing of dry socket paste may ease your discomfort and put you on the road to recovery.