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Dry Socket Self-Care: The Dos & Don'ts

Updated: Oct 29

Aftercare for a painful dry socket involves a lot of self care because most of the things you should do can be done at home. There isn't anything fancy that needs to be done because this complication will heal on its own albeit at a slower pace than usual.


Do you know what you can and can't do when you have this condition?


dry socket
dry socket

We're here to provide you with some tips for at home management in your journey to recovery. Hopefully you've already received a diagnosis from your dentist because if you don't actually have this condition, none of what we say will apply to you.


Dos & Don'ts of dry socket self care

Proper dry socket self-care is the mainstay of the aftercare protocol because most of it takes place at home. Therefore it is crucial that you know what you can do and can't do if you want to minimize healing delays and the pain because it is excruciatingly painful.


amoxicillin & ibuprofen
amoxicillin & ibuprofen

Dos:

  • Take painkillers in a timely manner.

  • Rinse frequently with salt water or chlorhexidine.

  • Irrigate the socket to keep it clean.

  • Cold compress if there is swelling.


Don'ts:

  • Put dressings or home remedies (orajel, anbesol) into the socket.

  • Playing or probing the extraction hole.

  • Eat foods which cause irritation.


Self care WITH a dry socket dressing

If your dentist places a dressing into your dry socket, your aftercare will differ from what we've stated above in the previous section.


Dos:

  • Take painkillers in a timely manner.

  • Rinse gently with salt water or chlorhexidine.

  • Return to your dentist on a timely manner for dressing changes.

  • Cold compress if there is swelling.


Don'ts:

  • Irrigating the socket.

  • Playing or probing the extraction hole.

  • Eat foods which cause irritation.


The two most important things to keep in mind for this situation is to have your dressing changed on schedule and also to avoid irrigating the socket.

  • You may be required to see your dentist every couple of days (2-3) days to have your socket dressing replaced. It will get washed out over time so you will need a new one.

  • Do not accidentally irrigate out the dressing into the socket. For this reason alone, you should NOT use the syringe for irrigation if you have a dressing.


Syringe for socket irrigation
Syringe for socket irrigation

Purpose of self care

The purpose of aftercare for this extraction complication is to minimize pain and delays in healing. Most of what you will be doing is palliative because there is no cure for this condition. The good news is that it will heal on its own albeit slower than normal.


There's no cure

Unfortunately there is no cure for this condition because researchers don't even know the exact cause of it. There are a lot of theories but none have been proven thus far.


Therefore, the best that we can do is simply offer palliative care which aims at alleviating discomfort. This involves taking medication and using dressings to reduce the pain but that is about all that it will do.


Does stitches help?

No, getting stitches will not prevent this painful condition from occurring. Although it may help reduce some of the pain if you're able to completely close the socket by covering up the exposed bone.


It will heal on its own

Fortunately, this condition will go away on its own even if you don't do anything for it. Your body will naturally repair itself over time.


Although if you make bad lifestyle choices, you can potentially prolong the healing process. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you know the dos and don'ts for dry socket self-care.


How to expedite healing

Officially, there isn't a way to make a dry socket heal faster because there is no cure for it. Although there is promising experimental research which may help. However, what is known is that there are things you can do to prevent delayed healing.


What prolongs healing time:

  • Failure to keep the socket clean. If you don't stay on top of your oral hygiene, food and plaque will accumulate in and around the surgical site. A non-clean tooth socket will force your body to work around it thus prolonging the time it takes to heal.

  • Applying dressings into the socket. You better believe it, applying dry socket paste, orajel, clove oil, etc will cause a delay in healing. Studies have proven that while these agents will provide pain relief, they often cause socket healing delay.


We wish to emphasize that complications may arise with placing dressings into a dry socket. Yes, it will alleviate your toothache but in rare cases such as in the study above, it resulted in a 3 year complication.

  • Patient ended up extracting multiple teeth in the affected quadrant.

  • After 3 years, it was found that a foreign body developed in the previous dry socket.


Promising experimental treatment

There has been promising evidence that using PRGF (plasma rich growth factor) can help accelerate dry socket healing. Although using PRGF did not aid in pain alleviation when compared to the standard dry socket paste.


Study results:

  • PRGF gelatin sponge vs zinc oxide eugenol (ZOE).

  • PRGF experienced better healing.

  • ZOE had greater pain relief.


Eugenol dental product
Eugenol dental product

In summary, there is a trade off when using PRGF in lieu of the eugenol based dressings. You may have better healing but you'll have less pain relief.


How long dry socket takes to heal

If you develop a dry socket after your extraction, you should expect a 1-2 week delay in healing time. In other words, the time it takes for you to recover may be prolonged by an additional 2 weeks.


Healing times:

  • Normal socket - Most extraction related pain should subside within a week.

  • Dry socket - Pain should subside within 3 weeks.


As a point of reference, this study was measuring pain relief for patients using painkillers vs dry socket paste. They were recording pain alleviation scores for up to 20 days which gives you a clue as to how long this condition may last.


Takeaway

Doing all of the right things can lead to a faster recovery from dry socket while doing all of the wrong things will result in a delay.


Just remember that it may take up to 3 weeks or so before this condition resolves but in the meantime, there are plenty of pain alleviating techniques you can use to stay comfortable.


You may also want to be more careful about undergoing future extractions because once you get this, it means you're at higher risk for it subsequently. Lower impacted wisdom teeth tend to have the highest rates of getting this painful condition.



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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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