When you have a tooth extracted, a blood clot normally forms in the empty socket in order to protect it from bacteria and food particles. If this blood clot doesn't develop properly or becomes dislodged, it causes a condition called dry socket. Since the nerves in your gums are exposed, dry socket often causes a severe throbbing pain that becomes much worse when you drink cold liquids. In addition, food particles can enter the open socket, greatly increasing your likelihood of developing an infection. To help your gums heal after an extraction, it's important to avoid dry socket. Follow these five tips after your extraction to keep dry socket at bay and allow your gums the opportunity to heal.
1. Gently Brush the Area Surrounding the Extraction Site
It's a good idea to gently brush the teeth surrounding the extraction site in order to reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth and decrease your risk of infection. However, be careful when you're brushing your teeth and avoid the empty socket until it heals — a toothbrush can dislodge the blood clot and cause you to develop dry socket.
2. Only Rinse With Dentist-Prescribed Mouthwash
You should avoid using mouthwash until your gums have completely healed — many contain alcohol or other solvents that can weaken the blood clot and make dry socket more likely. If you're afraid of developing dry socket after an extraction, ask your dentist about medicated mouthwash that's safe for you to use.
3. Eat Soft Food to Prevent the Blood Clot From Becoming Dislodged
Avoid eating anything hard or crunchy until your gums have healed. Hard food like nuts and candy can become lodged in your socket while you're chewing, forcing out the blood clot and leading to dry socket. While you're healing, eat soft food such as pudding, mashed potatoes, and gelatin.
4. Don't Drink Through a Straw Until Your Gums Heal
Drinking through a straw is normally a great way to maintain your dental health — it prevents acidic liquids such as soda from making contact with your teeth, which helps to preserve enamel. After an extraction, however, you should avoid drinking through straws until your gums have completely healed. The suction in your mouth that's created whenever you drink from a straw can dislodge blood clots, causing dry socket.
5. Stop Smoking in Order to Speed Wound Healing
Smoking greatly increases your risk of developing dry socket after an extraction. Firstly, smoking a cigarette or a cigar creates suction in your mouth similarly to drinking through a straw. Secondly, tobacco use interferes with wound healing — smoking after your extraction can slow the formation of the blood clot in your tooth socket, making you more susceptible to developing dry socket. After your extraction, switch to using nicotine patches until your gums have healed. Avoid using nicotine gum or lozenges, as this can introduce bacteria to your mouth and increase your risk of infection.
If you're feeling intense pain in your mouth after an extraction and think that you have developed dry socket, schedule an appointment with a dentist. The socket will be cleaned with water to remove any food residue, an antibiotic gel will be applied to the site, and then the socket will be covered with a dressing in order to give it a chance to heal. You may have to make a repeat visit to your general dentistry clinic within a few days in order to have your dressing changed. In most cases, treating the dry socket and protecting it with a dressing will immediately alleviate your pain and allow the extraction site to heal unimpeded.