How to Prevent Dry Socket
In some cases, complications occur after tooth extraction for no apparent reason. However, it is often possible to prevent dry socket by altering your behavior before and after your dental surgery. Prior to tooth extraction, here are the steps you should take:
Stop Smoking – Smokers are at much higher risk for developing dry socket. You will need to stay away from cigarettes and other tobacco products for a period of time after your surgery anyway as recommended by your oral surgeon. Quitting early gives your mouth a chance to recover from the chronic effects of smoking (dry mouth, gum inflammation, poor circulation).
Manage Your Hormones – This tip is for women. Birth control pills that contain estrogen may increase your risk of dry socket as well as post-operative pain. This hormone can affect your blood’s clotting ability. There are certain times during your menstrual cycle when your estrogen levels are lower (this is usually the final week of your pill cycle). It’s generally not necessary or advisable to stop taking the pill just because you are having a tooth extracted. However, timing your surgery for when your estrogen levels are lowest might help you avoid unnecessary complications.
Review Medications – There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications that can inhibit blood clotting. Aspirin is just one example of a drug to avoid if you want to prevent dry socket. You will need to talk with your dentist (and your physician) about whether you can safely stop taking blood thinners or other prescription medications prior to oral surgery.
On the other end of the equation, there are medications you may need to start taking before you have a tooth pulled. Sneezing and blowing your nose can generate enough force in your mouth to dislodge a freshly formed blood clot. If you have seasonal allergies, you should take steps to get your symptoms under control before you have a tooth extracted. If you have a compromised immune system, you may be prescribed an antibiotic to help prevent infection after oral surgery.
The first 24 hours are absolutely critical for blood clot formation. You must not rinse out your mouth during this first day. Keep the gauze packing in place with gentle pressure as advised. Replace the gauze dressing if it becomes blood soaked. Always moisten the new gauze pack before inserting it in your mouth to keep it from sticking to the blood clot.
Your dentist may provide antibiotic or antiseptic mouthwash or gel to apply to the extraction site after surgery to help prevent dry socket. Use these as directed along with cold compresses on your jaw to relieve pain or inflammation. Remember to take your pain medications, but don’t assume that a lack of pain means your extraction site is healing faster than it really is. It can take a week or more for the socket to begin filling in with tissue. Before that, the fragile blood clot is the only thing standing between you and a painful case of dry socket. Stay at home and rest the first day and night after your extraction. Sudden movements and strenuous activity including exercise may jiggle the clot loose.
After the first 24 hours, you can generally rinse your mouth very gently with warm salt water. Don’t do this more often than your dentist recommends. Never swish and spit vigorously. Just hold the water in your mouth and let it wash over the extraction site. Do keep your mouth clean by brushing and flossing your other teeth as advised by your dentist after the first full day of healing (you may be asked not to use toothpaste so you don’t have to rinse or spit). Stay away from the healing socket during brushing. In fact, don’t touch the socket during healing with your tongue, finger, toothbrush or anything else.
Focus your diet on soft, smooth foods like mashed potatoes, soup, yogurt and applesauce the first day. Add other soft foods when you are able to chew with little discomfort. Chew food on the side of your mouth away from the extraction site. Don’t eat foods that:
- Require forceful chewing
- Are hard, crunchy, crumbly or sticky
- Are hot or spicy
Keep up your fluid intake by drinking plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, carbonated drinks (soda), caffeine, and hot beverages for the first day or two to help prevent dry socket. Don’t drink through a straw for about a week after your extraction. Using a straw creates a sucking force in your mouth that may pull the clot free.
Were You Able to Prevent Dry Socket?
That’s great! After the first week, your risk of dry socket decreases substantially. Depending on your rate of healing, you may be able to return to normal diet and activities soon. However, gum tissue takes several more weeks to form. Full bone healing may take four to six months. Maintain your oral hygiene routine and keep any scheduled follow up appointments with your dentist to ensure a full, uncomplicated recovery.