“Be sure not to use a straw while drinking anything over the next few days, okay?” Huh? What? Reading this, you might think this is the strangest bit of advice a dentist could ever offer. Don’t drink from a straw? But, why? Because after a tooth extraction, drinking from a straw can lead to a painful, albeit temporary condition, termed “dry socket.” So, what is dry socket exactly, and other than staying away from your friendly fast-food soda fountain, what can you do to avoid it?
What Is Dry Socket?
Dry socket arises either when a blood clot doesn’t form at the site of a tooth extraction, or when it is accidentally removed because of certain factors that take place after surgery. The absence of the clot causes the nerves and bone in your mouth to be exposed to air and food, and can lead to severe pain and infection that can last up to a week.
But, I Thought Blood Clots Were Bad?
While it’s true some types of blood clots can dislodge and create a threat to one’s health, clots that form after extractions are essential to the healing process.
This is how they work:
When a tooth is extracted, blood vessels in the tissue surrounding the tooth are traumatized, causing bleeding at the extraction site. The body is, of course, equipped to stop the bleeding, and in doing so, three things happen:
- First, the vessels constrict to reduce the volume of blood flowing through the area.
- Then, within seconds, blood platelets begin to adhere to the interior surface of the blood vessel in order to form what is known as a platelet plug. Blood proteins stick to this plug and form an even stronger mesh-like layer called fibrin.
- Lastly, the blood begins to coagulate around this mesh, thickening into a gel, forcing blood cells and platelets to remain in the wound and promote healing.
If you think of the process a painter uses to spackle a hole in the wall, you’ll have a pretty good visual representation of what happens when a clot forms!
How Can I Prevent Dry Socket?
Since the formation of a clot is one of the most important aspects of healing when it comes to tooth extraction, you’ll want to protect the integrity of the clot by helping it stay in place. Here’s how you can do it:
- Skip the straw: Using a straw creates a tremendous amount of negative pressure in your mouth (a vacuum of sorts), which can disrupt the integrity of the blood clot, and possibly cause it to become dislodged.
- Don’t swoosh: While a swirling vortex of water might help you dislodge food particles stuck between your teeth on a good day, doing so when you’re chaperoning a blood clot isn’t the best of ideas, so hold off on vigorous rinsing until your doctor says it’s okay.
- Don’t smoke: Smokers are more prone to dry socket in general, so smoking after an extraction is a definite no-no.
- A few other baddies: Forceful spitting, and cleaning the teeth next to the extraction site can also be problematic.
As you can see, avoiding dry socket really isn’t that difficult. Understanding what a blood clot is, why you need it, and how not to disturb it is all you need for a healthy, happy, full recovery!
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