'Dry socket' is the colloquial term for a rare complication from a wound caused by the extraction of a tooth. (The technical term is 'alveolar osteitis.') It is the result of a healing disturbance. The true cause is unknown, but certain habits, such as smoking or (for women) using hormonal contraceptives may increase a patient's risk for dry socket.
Also, women in general are more likely than men to develop dry socket, because estrogen tends to slow the healing process. Thus, dentists choose if possible to remove women's teeth during the final week of the menstrual cycle, when the production of estrogen decreases. Older patients may also be at higher risk than younger ones. Location is another determining factor: The lower jaw sockets are more vulnerable than the upper ones; back teeth sockets (i.e. molars) more than front ones. The greatest risk appears to involve lower wisdom teeth, especially if the tooth removed was an impacted one. And if a patient has had dry socket before, there is a great chance that he will have it again.
The most common form of the disorder occurs within four to five days following the extraction, when the blood clot fails to be replaced by granulation tissue. Sometimes complications occur two weeks later, in which case scientists refer to the disorder as 'suppurative osteitis;' it is characterized by discharges of pus from the socket. Later still, 'necrotizing' osteitis may occur, in which case the inflammatory cells are accompanied by bony sequestrae near them.
Signs and symptoms of alveolar osteitis include: pain in the affected socket (this disappears as the wound heals); bone visible when one looks down the socket; a bad odor; and reddened, inflamed gum tissue.
Dry socket has no 'treatment' as such; the wound heals by itself. However, the pain can be decreased or minimized by rinsing the socket and applying a sedative dressing containing aspirin and some other ingredients. If you develop dry socket, the best thing to do is go back to your dentist to have this done. The dressing is changed regularly over a few days, depending on the particular requirements of the patient. Sometimes, the dentist also prescribes analgesics to treat the pain.
In the long run, prevention is much less costly, with regard to both money and time, than treatment. Following a tooth extraction, follow any instructions from your dentist. He may give you a piece of gauze to bite down on for a certain period of time, so as to allow the blood clot to form properly. And avoid alcohol, tobacco, or hot liquids.