What Does a Dry Socket Look Like?
Byte content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed doctor, orthodontist or dentist in our Expert Dental Network. They ensure the information is factual and current.
We have strict sourcing guidelines and each page contains a full list of sources for complete transparency.
Table of Contents
- What does it look like?
- Risk Factors & Symptoms
- Treating Dry Socket
- Lowering Your Risk
When you have your wisdom teeth removed or you have a tooth removed as an adult, your dentist may warn you about a condition called dry socket. This occurs when infection sets into the root pulp area where a tooth used to be.
You can experience serious pain in your mouth for up to five days if you develop dry socket, due to exposed nerves, gums, and even bone.
The medical term for dry socket is alveolar osteitis. It is most common in people who have had their wisdom teeth removed.
In a healthy post-surgery mouth, a blood clot forms on the gums to begin healing tissue in the area, protecting the nerve and bone underneath. If the blood clot fails to form or becomes dislodged, the exposure can be painful and take much longer to heal. It can also become infected.
What does dry socket look like?
Dry socket looks like a substantial hole at the site where the tooth was removed. This hole occurs because the blood clot has been dislodged. The bone may be visible in the hole.
While some people may be able to see this hole, it takes a professional to diagnose the issue. It can be difficult to see well inside your own mouth, even with use of a mirror.
Risk factors and symptoms of dry socket.
Dry socket is diagnosed by a dentist. It looks like an exposed socket where a tooth used to be, but the blood clot is missing. If you open your mouth, you might be able to see this, but a medical professional will be able to officially diagnose dry socket.
You are at higher risk for developing dry socket if you:
- Smoke and do not stop while your socket heals.
- Have generally poor oral health.
- Have a difficult tooth extraction.
- Take hormones, which can interfere with the healing process.
- Have had dry socket in the past.
- Drink from a straw while the socket heals.
- Vigorously rinse and spit while the socket heals.
After you have a tooth extracted, you may have some moderate pain in the area for a few days afterward. Your dentist may prescribe painkillers or recommend a specific dose of over-the-counter painkillers. If pain gets worse or lasts longer than two to three days, you may have developed dry socket.
Symptoms of dry socket include:
- Pain that becomes severe within one to three days after a tooth is pulled.
- Pain that radiates from your ear or eye, temple, neck, or side of your jaw or face where the tooth was pulled.
- Bad taste in your mouth.
- Bad breath, halitosis, or an odor coming from your mouth.
- Slight fever associated with infection.
If you develop these symptoms, get in touch with your dentist for a follow-up appointment. Do not ignore these symptoms because your gums and jaw can become infected, which puts your overall health at greater risk.
Treating dry socket.
Go to your dentist for treatment. A medical professional can help you manage the symptoms of dry socket and avoid infection. About 45 percent of people who develop dry socket need medical intervention to manage it, so do not delay.
Your dentist will clean out the area, flushing out food particles or other material that has collected in the socket. They will fill the socket with medical paste, and use a dressing to seal it and promote healing. You may need to return to your dentist in a few days or weeks to have the dressing changed.
You may get a prescription for antibiotics, which might be oral pills or a special antibiotic mouthwash. If the pain from dry socket is severe, you may also receive a prescription for pain medication or an irrigation solution. This can help to manage the pain for a few days, until the socket begins to heal.
At home, you can care for your oral health by using all prescriptions according to your dentist’s instructions and closely following their care instructions. If swelling or inflammation causes discomfort, you can gently apply a cold compress to your face, near the affected socket.
Do not put a piece of ice or a cold compress inside your mouth. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol while you heal.
Lowering your risk of dry socket.
Many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. It is a very common dental practice in the United States. Proper care after this common extraction greatly reduces your risk of developing dry socket.
If you need to have more teeth pulled due to injury or infection, you are at risk for getting dry socket every time. Practicing good oral hygiene, including getting regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist, means you are less likely to suffer pain or infection in your mouth.
Dry Socket Etiology, Diagnosis, and Clinical Treatment Techniques. (April 2018). Journal of the Korean Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
Dry Socket. (October 2018). MedlinePlus.
How Do I Manage a Patient With Dry Socket? (April 2013). Canadian Dental Association.
Dry Socket. (July 2019). Kaiser Permanente.
An Overview of Dry Socket and Its Management. (May 2014). IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences.