Surely it's a good thing for a healing wound to remain dry? The site needs to be kept clean and dry to encourage the clotting process, creating a protective scab over the wound. This might be true for most wounds, but it's a little different in your mouth. Following a tooth extraction, it's important that the extraction site not dry out, as this leads to a potentially harmful complication known as dry socket. But what's the risk in developing a dry socket after a tooth has been extracted?
The Formation of a Clot
When a dentist extracts a tooth, its empty socket is now exposed and will bleed. A dentist will first manage this bleeding chair-side, suctioning away excess blood before instructing you to gently bite down on a piece of sterile gauze. This gauze will need to be regularly changed over the coming hours, but will staunch your bleeding, and will encourage the formation of a clot. This humble clot is essential for your healing and comfort.
A Tricky Situation
Your clot is in a tricky situation. Not only is it trying to form in a high moisture environment (the inside of your mouth), but it's also exposed to ongoing biomechanical forces (each time you move your jaw). A clot can quite easily be lost. There are also certain unwise habits that can contribute to the loss of a clot forming over a dental socket, such as smoking, eating foods that are too chewy or sticky, or drinking through a straw—all of which create suction that can pull a clot out of position.
If the clot is lost prematurely, you're now experiencing dry socket. The bone lining the empty socket lacks protection, and this leads to a type of osteitis, which is an inflammation of your bone tissues. For some patients, this can be extremely painful, and often requires emergency dentistry. If in pain, a patient should seek immediate dental treatment, as the situation is likely to worsen.
A dentist will disinfect the empty socket, administer pain relief, and may apply a sterile dressing to the socket to protect it from further contamination. This dressing can extend your healing time (as a new clot cannot readily form beneath the dressing) but may be essential to prevent an escalation of your symptoms. Your subsequent treatment can be handled by your regular dentist, but emergency treatment can be needed to manage your pain and halt your symptoms.
A tooth extraction shouldn't involve any postoperative complications (ideally, anyway), but dry socket is a reasonably common complication. Though it's quite simple to treat, please remember that it can be very painful in the short term, so any dental treatment shouldn't be delayed. If you are in ned of emergency dentistry services, contact a dentist in your area.