Dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis, is moderate to severe pain experienced after dental extraction due to exposure of bony surfaces. The pain typically begins 3-5 days following a tooth extraction. Although the cause is unclear, it is thought to be related to fibrinolytic activity within the extraction socket, which leads to lysis of the developing blood clot. The subsequent exposure of bone leads to moderate to severe pain that may be dull and aching. This pain may radiate to the ipsilateral ear. Associated symptoms include a foul odor or taste. Although dry socket is rare (2%) following routine dental extractions, it is more commonly associated with extraction of the mandibular third molars.
Treatment, discharge, and follow up
Treatment of a dry socket is relatively simple. The premise is to NOT dislodge any newly forming blood clot, which serves as a protective covering.
- Irrigate the socket with sterile saline
- Gently suction away the excess saline, but do not go too deep into the socket as to evacuate the developing blood clot. The area also should NOT be curetted, as this will often worsen and possibly dislodge beneficial blood clots.
- Insert a medicated dry socket dressing (iodoform gauze) into the socket. These may be available in your emergency department or, alternatively, can be obtained from the pharmacy or as a commercial preparation from a dental supply company. Ingredients in this dressing include: eugenol to help with pain, topical anesthetic such as benzocaine, and a carrying vehicle such as balsam of Peru. Upon application, the patient should experience immediate relief within 5 minutes. Unfortunately, many emergency departments do not stock dry socket paste or Dressol-X. An alternative is ribbon gauze or Gelfoam impregnated with eugenol, iodine, or oil of cloves.
The patient should follow-up with an outpatient dentist or oral surgeon within 2 days to have their dry socket dressing changed every other day for the next 3-5 days.