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What Is an Alveolar Osteitis?

By Jennifer Long
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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An alveolar osteitis, also called dry socket, is a condition that affects the mouth. It is a common problem that occurs after the removal of permanent adult teeth. After the tooth has been removed, a blood clot forms in the socket. Under normal circumstances, this blood clot protects the newly exposed nerves and bone while gum tissue heals and replaces the clot. Dry socket occurs when this clot comes out or has fallen apart.

When a permanent tooth is removed, there is a hole left in the gum. Removing the tooth exposes nerve endings and bone that were under the tooth. Bleeding occurs, which creates a clot that provides a temporary barrier for the nerves and bone. Alveolar osteitis occurs when this clot disappears, either by dislodging or falling apart.

Alveolar osteitis is evident from several symptoms that occur. The socket where the tooth was will appear dry, and some bone may be visible. Sharp pain is commonly experienced because the nerves are exposed to air and food that cause irritation. Pain can occur at the site and tends to travel toward the ear or cheek bone.

Some patients are more likely to develop alveolar osteitis than others. People who smoke after a few days following the removal of a tooth can expect a decrease in blood supply, irritation to the gum tissue, and a delay in healing. Women who are taking birth control pills are also at risk. Disregarding care instructions can also cause dry socket, particularly in patients who have poor dental hygiene.

Treatment of alveolar osteitis focuses on reducing pain and assisting the healing process. A dentist will clean out the socket to remove any food particles. Small pieces of gauze covered in a pain-reliever combination medication are applied to the socket. It is also common for patients to be given antibiotics to help prevent infection. Gargling is recommended to keep food and liquid out of the socket.

Preventing alveolar osteitis is important. If a patient is at risk for developing dry socket, a dentist may provide additional instructions. Antibacterial mouthwashes may be used before and after the procedure and also at home. Women on birth control pills should schedule extractions during the end of a menstrual cycle to reduce the interference of high hormone levels. Smoking should be avoided for at least 24 hours after the tooth removal, and liquids should be sipped slowly to avoid pulling the clot out through accidental suction.

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