From baby teeth to wisdom teeth, what's in our mouths marks our passage from infancy into adulthood. Tooth loss is a normal part of childhood, but there is no tooth fairy for adults. While many Americans lose teeth as they age, it's not inevitable. Instead of the fairy tale tooth-for-cash exchange, adult tooth loss centers around decay and injury.
Tooth decay is the leading cause of missing teeth and tooth extractions, but tooth extractions may also be needed due to other reasons, such as impacted wisdom teeth or accidental injury.
Sometimes, when a tooth is unhealthy and cannot be repaired, your dentist may recommend removing it to avoid complications, such as infection. A tooth extraction is a dental procedure performed by either a dentist or oral surgeon, and as with any surgery, there are risks of side effects. The most common side effect of a tooth extraction is dry socket.
Before we can understand dry socket, let's first look at what a tooth socket is.
Each of your teeth has two basic parts: a crown and a root. The crown is the part of the tooth visible inside your mouth, while the root is what anchors the tooth in the jawbone. The root is embedded in a tooth socket, which is a hole in the jawbone, covered by cementum (hard, calcified connective tissue) and attached to the periodontal ligament (the flexible tissue that attaches the root to the alveolar bone).
When a tooth is extracted, the body naturally forms a blood clot in the empty tooth socket. This blood clot is essential for protecting the exposed jawbone, tissue and nerves and promoting healing. When the blood clot does not properly form (for example, if it's too small to cover the wound), or if the clot becomes dislodged from the socket, this is a condition known as dry socket.
While it's normal to experience pain and discomfort immediately after a tooth is extracted, this discomfort should begin to lessen, generally, after the second day of healing. When pain persists or worsens after the first two to three days after an extraction, and when it's accompanied by bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth, you may be developing dry socket. If you were to look at the wound it would appear empty, and you may be able to see bone.
Luckily, while dry socket is painful, it's easily treatable. Let's find out tips for prevention, and discuss the treatment options if it develops.