Signs and Treatments for Dry Sockets

There are many reasons you might benefit from a tooth extraction. A tooth extraction might be necessary if your tooth is severely damaged or decayed. In the case of wisdom teeth, you might need an extraction if the teeth are impacted. 

When you receive an extraction at Northern Virginia Oral, Maxillofacial & Impact Surgery, we want you to feel confident in your post-extraction care at home. That’s why we make sure you understand all of your post-extraction guidelines, including tips for avoiding a complication called dry socket. Dry socket occurs when the protective blood clot — that naturally forms over the extraction site — is dislodged and exposes the nerves. Fortunately, this condition is uncommon and affects as little as 2% of those who have extractions.

In this guide, we’ll explore the top signs of dry socket and what to do if you think you have developed this condition.

6 signs of dry socket

While it is common to experience a little tenderness and discomfort after an extraction, you should notice that pain and discomfort decrease with every passing day. If the intensity and pain of your symptoms worsen, this could be a sign of a problem, such as an infection or dry socket. 

The following six signs may indicate dry socket:

  1. Pain that intensifies after your extraction
  2. Loss (either partial or full) of the protective blood clot
  3. Visible bone (where the blood clot used to be)
  4. A sour, unpleasant taste in your mouth
  5. Pain that spreads from the extraction site to your ear, neck, and temple
  6. A foul odor at the extraction site

Dry socket causes discomfort because the nerves and bone are exposed. However, food and debris can also become lodged in the socket and create more discomfort. 

How are dry sockets treated?

If you suspect you have dry socket, swift treatment is the key to feeling better. Dry sockets require professional dental care. According to the experts at Mayo Clinic, dry sockets may benefit from the following treatments:

Flushing the socket to remove debris

If food and other debris irritate the socket, it can increase your risk of an infection — not to mention additional discomfort. Flushing out the socket helps to remove any food that is stuck in the socket. 

Packing the socket

Once the socket is free from any debris, medicated gel can be applied at the extraction site. Packing the socket with medicated dressing helps relieve pain as well as protect the area. Dressings must be changed regularly.


Depending on the severity of your pain, you may need a prescription pain medication. If an infection develops, you’ll need antibiotics. If you are advised to take antibiotics, it’s important to finish your full dose, even if you start to feel better.

Tip: Never take over-the-counter pain relief medication with prescription pain medication. If you are unsure, always check with a pharmacist. 

At-home care

In addition to flushing the socket, packing the socket with a dressing, and receiving a prescription for pain medication, you can also take care of your dry socket at home. Note that self-care at home doesn’t replace professional dental care — it supplements it. According to Mayo Clinic, at-home care for dry sockets may include:

The most important thing you can do during your healing process is to follow all of your post-extraction care instructions. With the proper care, your symptoms of dry socket should start to ease up.

Preventing dry socket

If you’re scheduled for a tooth extraction, you can reduce your risk of developing dry socket by avoiding aggravating the extraction site. This includes avoiding directly brushing the extraction site, avoiding crunchy or hard foods, and avoiding using straws for the first few days after your extraction. While swishing with salt water promotes healing, it’s important to refrain from swishing for at least 24 hours.

Questions or concerns about dry socket? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at our Burke, Reston, or Alexandria offices today. You can also request an appointment online.

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