When a dentist extracts a tooth – whether it's an impacted wisdom tooth or a severely decayed molar – the procedure leaves behind a small hole where the tooth once was. This socket can be very sensitive at first, which is why your dentist may recommend socket preservation to go along with your extraction. Protecting the socket after tooth extraction is very important, for a few reasons.
How Socket Preservation Helps After A Tooth Extraction
One reason to protect the socket is to avoid the development of a dry socket, which can form if the blood clot that protects the healing area is knocked loose, exposing the nerve beneath it. Protecting the socket also preserves the alveolar ridge, the strip of bone that surrounds the roots of teeth in which they are attached to. If a deformity exists in the alveolar ridge, it can also complicate things if you decide to get an implant. The dental specialist will have to make sure that adequate bone level is there in order to replace the removed tooth in the future.
As the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association notes, it's not uncommon for the bone that previously supported the tooth to melt away once the tooth is removed – it doesn't serve a purpose anymore. When this bone fades away, however, gaps form between the teeth, or the teeth can move out of alignment. This is why a socket preservation is typically performed at the same time as the tooth extraction itself.
A socket or alveolar ridge preservation procedure involves placing a bone graft into the socket, where the tooth once was. This graft can be made of synthetic materials, bone from other animals (such as cows) or human bone. After putting the graft in the socket, the dentist usually covers it up with a collagen membrane, then sutures the opening to keep it closed.
The goal of socket preservation is to improve the appearance of the remaining teeth and gums and to make the process of getting a dental implant (at some point down the line) less complicated. Not all dentists offer the procedure at the time of tooth extraction, because not every practice considers it a necessary or valuable procedure.
Research by the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Implants suggests that opinion might be shifting when it comes to alveolar ridge preservation, though. The study examined 13 papers and drew the conclusion that socket preservation procedures help reduce horizontal or vertical alterations in the alveolar ridge near the site of a tooth extraction. If you are interested in the procedure, it's worth discussing the pros and cons with your dentist.
Taking good care of the area around the socket is essential after a tooth extraction, not only to protect your gumline, but to improve your comfort as the socket heals. Your dentist might ask you to avoid brushing your teeth, even with an extra-soft toothbrush such as the Colgate® 360°® Enamel Health™, for at least a day after the extraction. You'll also want to avoid any activity that can create added pressure in your mouth – such as smoking cigarettes or using a straw – for some time after the tooth extraction. Much like hard foods, these items can knock the blood clot out, leading to a dry socket.
If you have any concerns about an extraction's resulting socket, whether or not you've had a preservation procedure, don't be afraid to reach out to your dentist for advice. He or she can tell you what to do if there is excessive bleeding or if you're in too much pain. Tooth extraction and alveolar ridge preservation are straightforward procedures, and as long as you take your dentist's advice seriously, you should recover without a hitch.