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Dry socket

2-minute read

Dry socket, also called alveolar osteitis, is a painful complication of a tooth extraction. It is normal to feel sore or uncomfortable after pulling a tooth.

The pain with dry socket can be intense. It may start a few days after the extraction. If this happens you will need to return to your dentist or oral surgeon.

Dry socket causes

When a tooth is pulled, a blood clot usually forms in the socket. The word ‘socket’ refers to the hole in the jaw bone where your tooth used to be. This blood clot protects the bone and nerve. But if the blood clot is dislodged or does not form well, the bone and nerve are left exposed. This causes the pain.

Dry socket occurs more often with wisdom teeth in the lower jaw than with other teeth. You are also more likely than others to develop dry socket if you:

  • smoke
  • previously had dry socket
  • had a difficult tooth extraction
  • use oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • don’t have good dental hygiene
  • have had a tooth extracted from the lower jaw, especially a wisdom or molar tooth

Dry socket symptoms

If you have dry socket you may have:

  • severe pain within a few days of the tooth extraction — the pain may extend to your ear or eye on the same side of your face
  • bad breath
  • a slight fever
  • an unpleasant taste in your mouth

Dry socket diagnosis

If you have severe pain after a tooth extraction, see your dentist or oral surgeon. They will talk to you and examine you. You may need an x-ray to rule out other conditions such as osteomyelitis (a bone infection).

Dry socket prevention and treatment

To prevent dry socket after a tooth extraction, follow your dentist’s instructions including how to clean your mouth.

If you do develop dry socket, your dentist or oral surgeon may:

  • flush out any food particles stuck in the socket
  • put a medicated dressing in the socket

Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics or pain medication. They may ask you to rinse your mouth with a mouthwash or salt water at home. The condition should improve quickly after treatment.


Mayo Clinic (Dry socket), Cochrane (What treatments can be used to prevent and treat alveolar osteitis (dry socket)?), Medical Journal of Australia (Patients presenting to the general practitioner with pain of dental origin)

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Last reviewed: September 2019

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