Having a tooth pulled may sound painful, but it's actually a fairly quick process, and your dentist will make sure that you're properly anesthetized so that you don't feel pain during the extraction. However, after your tooth extraction, you'll need to make sure that you're diligent about aftercare so that you don't develop dry socket. Dry socket, or alveolar osteitis, is a painful condition that occurs after a small percentage of tooth extractions. When you have a tooth extracted, a blood clot forms in the empty socket to protect the nerves and bone underneath. Dry socket occurs when that blood clot is dislodged, exposing the nerves and bone to the air. This can cause severe pain and in some cases may lead to infection. Take a look at some things you can do to avoid dry socket after a tooth extraction.
If you're a smoker, it's important to note that smoking greatly increases your risk of developing dry socket. One study found that 12% of smokers developed dry socket, while only 4% of nonsmokers did. This may be because the act of inhaling while smoking a cigarette causes the blood clot to dislodge. When you pull on a cigarette, you're inhaling quickly and harshly, and that may be enough to disturb the clot.
What's more, the use of any tobacco products can slow down your body's healing products and make infection more likely, so it's not a good idea to substitute other tobacco products for cigarettes while you're healing. If the extraction is not an emergency, it's a good idea to schedule it so that you have time to quit smoking before having the tooth pulled. If you can't wait, you may want to switch to a nicotine patch (don't use nicotine gum while your mouth is healing) for at least a few days following the extraction. Ask your dentist for smoking cessation resources that can help you.
Investigate Medication Interactions
Before you have the extraction, make sure to talk to your dentist about any medications that you're currently taking. Some medications act as blood thinners and may interfere with the formation of the blood clot that should form in the empty socket. Birth control can also increase your risk of developing dry socket.
If you're taking a medication that can increase your risk of dry socket, your dentist may recommend that you stop taking before the extraction and for some time afterward if it's safe to do so. If you can't stop taking the medication, your dentist may decide to delay the extraction or take other steps that can prevent dry socket.
Your dentist will probably recommend that you avoid straws in the days following the extraction. This is because the sucking motion that you make when drinking from a straw could dislodge the blood clot.
Keep in mind that eating certain soft foods, like soup, can cause you to make a similar sucking motion even without a straw, so you'll need to avoid those as well. You should definitely eat soft foods for a day or more following the extraction but stick with options like mashed potatoes or yogurt that don't require any sucking.
Follow Your Dentist's Oral Hygiene Instructions
To avoid infection, you'll need to keep your mouth clean while your extraction site heals. However, you definitely don't want to brush the extraction site; toothbrush bristles could easily dislodge the clot. You'll need to ask your dentist how they want you to clean your mouth following the extraction. They may prescribe a special mouth rinse for you to use, or they may recommend that you simply rinse your mouth out with clean water for the first day or two. Whatever you do, don't brush the empty socket until your dentist tells you that it's safe to do so.
Tooth extractions is a safe and common procedure, and most patients heal without incident. Dry socket is relatively uncommon, but it's a serious complication, so it's worth taking all the necessary steps to avoid the possibility of developing dry socket.