Dry Socket: Symptoms and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 10, 2023
3 min read

Dry socket is a complication that can happen after you have a tooth pulled.

The socket is the hole in the bone where the tooth was removed. After you have a tooth pulled, a blood clot forms in the socket to protect the bone and nerves underneath. But sometimes this clot doesn't form, moves out of place, or dissolves. That leaves the bone and nerve exposed to air, food, fluid, and anything else that enters your mouth. This can cause intense pain.

About 2%-5% of people who have a tooth pulled get dry socket. You're most likely to get it when you have a wisdom tooth pulled. If it happens to you, it can be uncomfortable. But it can be treated easily and quickly.

You are more likely to have dry socket after getting a tooth pulled if you:

  • Smoke or chew tobacco: Chemicals in tobacco can get into the wound and delay healing.
  • Don't take care of your teeth: This makes it more likely that bacteria will enter the wound.
  • Drink through a straw: The sucking action can cause the clot to move.
  • Have a molar pulled: Dry socket may happen as much as 30% of the time when you are having a molar, such as a wisdom tooth, pulled.
  • Rinse your mouth with too much force: This can disturb the clot.
  • Have a lot of trauma during the tooth extraction: This can leave fragments of bone or root behind, and the blood clot might not form properly.
  • Use birth control pills: Higher estrogen levels from taking the pill can stop a blood clot from forming and delay healing.
  • Have a gum or tooth infection: Current or past infections near the socket can increase your chances for dry socket.

What does a dry socket feel like?

Dry socket can be very painful. Usually, the pain starts about about 2-3 days after you have the tooth pulled. You'll have pain around the tooth socket. You may also feel pain in your face, head, and neck.

How long will dry socket last?

Dry socket usually goes away in 7-10 days.

Will dry socket heal on its own?

Dry socket usually heals by itself. Your dentist can help ease the pain in the meantime.

Dry socket looks like a hole in the bone where the tooth was pulled. Instead of a dark blood clot, you'll just see whitish bone.

Pain relief is the main goal of treatment. You'll need to go back to the dentist, who will clean the tooth socket and fill it with a medicated dressing or a paste to relieve pain and promote healing. At home, your dentist may tell you to:

  • Rinse with salt water, which will relieve pain and help keep the socket clean
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription pain medications
  • Use ice to numb the pain

You'll probably have to come back to the dentist's office every few days for a dressing change until the socket starts to heal and your pain goes away.

Infection from dry socket isn't common. But your dentist may prescribe antibiotics if you have an infection.

While you're healing:

  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products
  • Avoid drinking with a straw
  • Avoid carbonated drinks
  • Brush your teeth very gently
  • Follow your dentist's instructions carefully

You can't always prevent dry socket, but you can do some things that can lower your risk:

  • Avoid cigarettes, cigars, and any other tobacco products after having a tooth pulled. 
  • If you take birth control pills, ask your dentist about pulling the tooth on a day when you're on the lowest dose of estrogen.
  • Check with your dentist about whether other medications you're taking could interfere with normal blood clotting.
  • Avoid drinking through a straw and spitting for the first few days.
  • Rinse your mouth gently. Don't do it more than your dentist recommends.
  • Visit your dentist for all scheduled follow-up visits.