Most patients heal quickly after wisdom tooth extraction. But not everyone has an easy time after their oral surgery. A small percentage of patients suffer a complication called dry socket, or alveolar osteitis.
Dry socket causes mild to severe pain around the extraction site and throughout the head and neck. Fortunately, you may be able to prevent this complication by implementing a few strategies.
What Causes Dry Socket After Wisdom Tooth Extraction?
Immediately following a tooth extraction, a blood clot begins to form at the surgical site. The clot acts to shield the nerves and bone in the empty socket.
During a normal recovery, soft tissue and bone grow over the clot to permanently seal the gum area. Complete healing generally takes a few weeks.
In patients with dry socket, the blood clot is dissolved or becomes dislodged before the soft tissue and bone have a chance to grow and cover the surgical site. Without the clot in place, the nerves and bone are left exposed — hence the pain.
In most cases, pain from this complication peaks about three to five days after wisdom tooth removal.
Who’s at Risk for Dry Socket After a Tooth Extraction?
Anyone can suffer this condition. Just the act of sucking on a straw can knock the blood clot loose.
That said, some people have a greater chance of developing dry socket.
Smokers are at the top of the list. The act of drawing on a cigarette increases the risk of dislodging the clot. In addition, tobacco use slows the healing process, so smoking after wisdom tooth extraction could delay recovery.
Certain medications can also boost the risk of complications after tooth removal. For example, some oral contraceptives, corticosteroids and diabetic drugs can delay healing. However, patients should never stop taking any doctor-recommended medication without consulting a medical professional.
What Can You Do to Prevent Dry Socket from Occurring?
If you have a compromised immune system or poor oral health, your oral surgeon may prescribe an oral antibiotic. Taking it before your wisdom tooth removal can help prevent complications. In addition, you may be advised to use an antibacterial mouthwash or gel both before and after surgery.
Regardless of your health status, following oral surgery aftercare instructions is essential. The oral surgeon will explain how to keep your mouth clean and will advise you to brush gently on a regular basis and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. A warm saltwater rinse may also be recommended.
For about a week or so, you’ll need to avoid strenuous physical activity, as this can dislodge the blood clot. Until your gums have healed, you’ll need to eat a soft-food diet. And, of course, stay away from straws and tobacco products.
The surgeons of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, serving the greater Salt Lake City area, are highly skilled and experienced in a full range of oral surgery procedures. Contact one of our three convenient offices today to schedule a consultation for wisdom tooth extraction.