Fact Checked

What Does a Dry Socket Look Like?

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

November 29, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Greg Grillo, DDS

If you've ever had a tooth removal procedure, then you've most likely heard the term "dry socket" before. Your dentist will generally stress the importance of preventing this condition since dry socket can result in intense pain and a prolonged healing process.

Doing what you can to avoid dry socket after an extraction procedure is always your best course of action. But if you still find yourself with dry socket, don't worry: it is completely treatable. But first, you will need to know how to identify it.

If you've recently had a tooth extraction or might have one in the future, it is essential to understand the causes, symptoms, and appearance of dry socket, as well as how to avoid it and what can be done to treat it.

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What Is Dry Socket?

Dry socket, also known as alveolar osteitis, is a condition that occurs after a tooth has been extracted. After an extraction, a blood clot forms in the tooth socket, which serves to protect the nerves and exposed bone underneath. Dry socket occurs when the blood clot either fails to form, dissolves, or becomes dislodged.

Without blood to protect the bone and nerves, bacteria can penetrate and cause an infection. This can lead to severe pain and other unpleasant symptoms.

What Does Dry Socket Look Like?

So, what does dry socket look like? It is not always easy to see the socket since many tooth extractions involve wisdom teeth and other molars in the back of the mouth. But if you are able to see the area, then you should find the top surface of a blood clot where your tooth once was.

If you don't see a blood clot, and especially if you see white in the socket, then you may be looking at dry socket. A white appearance is likely the bone beneath your gum line, which means it is not being protected by the blood clot and is being exposed to infection-causing bacteria.

Dry sockets that have become infected may appear yellow, green, or even black in color.

In any event, if you think you're looking at dry socket when you inspect your extraction site, don't hesitate to reach out to your dentist as soon as possible; dry sockets do not get better on their own.

Dry Socket Prevention

There are a few easy ways to dislodge that blood clot from your tooth socket after an extraction procedure. Your dentist will no doubt give you a list of dry socket causes before you leave the office, along with prevention suggestions such as:

Don't Drink from a Straw

The suction from drinking through a straw can dislodge the blood clot fairly easily. It's best to avoid using them altogether until you're fully healed.

Be Careful When Brushing

Another common way for the blood clot to become dislodged is prodding the empty socket too hard during your oral hygiene routine. Even if food particles get lodged in the extraction site, do not attempt to remove them yourself. Contact your dentist, and they will instruct you further.

Avoid Carbonated Drinks and Hot Liquids

Drinking carbonated or hot drinks after oral surgery can prevent blood clotting in the extraction site or dislodge already formed blood clots. Avoid them entirely for at least a week after the procedure.

Avoid Hard Foods

You can easily dislodge the blood clot while eating if a piece of hard food finds its way to the area of the tooth extraction. Eat soft foods and avoid chewing on the same side as the extraction site until you've healed.

Don't Spit

You may not typically be a frequent spitter, but after a tooth extraction, you might feel the urge to reduce the level of saliva in your mouth. When you feel that urge, either swallow the saliva or use a tissue to wipe it away, or you may develop dry socket.

This is because spitting can place a lot of force on the extraction site and dislodge the blood clot.

Don't Smoke

The act of smoking is not dissimilar to the act of sucking on a straw, which means that both can raise your odds of developing dry socket. The chemicals in tobacco can inhibit healing and can also increase your risk of infection.

Avoiding smoking while you heal may not be easy for you, but you will only extend your recovery time and incur more pain if you dislodge the blood clot. If possible, it’s best to stop smoking 48 hours before your procedure to reduce the chemicals in your bloodstream.

Dry Socket Symptoms

There are several common symptoms of dry socket that you can watch out for after an extraction. Some symptoms of dry socket are obvious and hard to ignore, but others can be more subtle. Keep an eye out for:

  • Full or partial loss of blood clot at the extraction site
  • An empty tooth socket
  • Throbbing pain in the general area of extraction
  • Worsening pain
  • Slight fever
  • Visibly exposed bone at the extraction site
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Bad breath or unusual odor coming from the mouth
  • Severe pain within days of extraction

If you've recently undergone wisdom teeth removal or had oral and maxillofacial surgery in which a tooth was removed and you notice one or more of these symptoms, seek prompt treatment for evaluation and possible alveolar osteitis.

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Who Has Increased Risk of Dry Socket?

It's important to be aware of the dry socket risk factors, and you'll want to let your oral surgeon know if you have some of these factors before you have a tooth extracted. This can help to ensure blood clot formation for a comfortable healing process. Those risk factors include:

Smoking or Using Tobacco Products

Smoking and using tobacco can weaken the immune system and slow down the healing process, which increases your odds of developing dry socket.

Taking Birth Control Pills

Some kinds of oral contraceptives can also disrupt blood clot formation and slow your recovery process. Patients who are on birth control should always inform their oral surgeon.

Previous Instances of Dry Socket

One of the most common predisposing factors for dry sockets is a patient having had it in the past. The risk of dry socket increases significantly in anyone with a history of the condition.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Failing to practice good oral hygiene puts you at considerable risk for dry socket. It may require some extra gentle care, but taking the time to keep your mouth clean by brushing and flossing regularly helps avoid infection and that notorious dry socket pain.

Failing to Follow Instructions

Your oral surgeon will provide you with a list of instructions, such as "eat only soft foods" and "gently rinse with salt water," that you will need to make sure and follow to the letter. These instructions are designed to ensure the blood clot forms, alveolar osteitis does not occur, and healing goes smoothly.

Dry Socket Treatment

It's an unfortunate fact that even if you do everything right, you might still develop dry socket after a tooth extraction. Fortunately, treatment isn't too complicated, and serious complications are not likely, even though the condition can be painful.

If you were to develop dry socket after a wisdom teeth extraction, your oral surgeon will most likely:

Recommend Pain Management Solutions

You're likely to be in some considerable pain when dry socket appears. That can be managed with some over-the-counter pain medications, such as Advil or Tylenol. Do not take aspirin, as it can increase bleeding and impede the healing process.

If the pain is beyond what over-the-counter solutions are able to provide, your doctor may be able to provide pain relief medications through prescription.

Holding a cold compress on your cheek can reduce inflammation and relieve some pain, but much like over-the-counter medications, they can only go so far with an issue like dry socket pain.

Tend to the Extraction Site

When you visit your dentist to have your dry socket treated, they'll first need to clean out the area where the tooth extraction occurred and remove any food particles that may be lodged in the gum tissue.

After that, they may use a medicated dressing to pack the exposed socket in order to reduce pain and prevent infection. The dressing will remain for a few days and then be removed either by your dentist or at home on your own, depending on your dentist's instructions.

Prescribe Oral Antibiotics

Infection is always a concern with dry sockets. Bacteria can penetrate into the bone and nerves at the tooth extraction site and cause even further complications. For this reason, your dentist may prescribe some oral antibiotics that you'll continue to take until you're fully healed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of the most commonly asked questions regarding dry socket include:

How Long Does It Take for Dry Socket to Heal?

The length of time it takes for dry socket to heal is dependent on how much care you put into protecting the exposed socket. If you want to promote healing, you need to rinse, brush, and floss regularly.

How Do I Know If I Have Dry Socket?

It's usually not subtle when you have dry socket. You're likely to experience intense pain, and if you're able to get a good look at the socket, you'll notice that the blood clot is either fully or partially missing and the bone is exposed. You are also likely to have a bad taste in your mouth and bad breath.

Are There Any Serious Complications with Dry Socket?

The most common complication with dry socket is that it will extend the length of time needed to recover from your tooth extraction. It is still possible, although unlikely, that you can develop an infection that can spread into the bone. That is why it's important to address the issue swiftly.

Does a Particularly Difficult Tooth Extraction Raise My Odds for Dry Socket?

Yes, if the extraction proves to be unusually difficult and there's extra trauma to the extraction site, then you may be at greater risk for dry socket.


Dry socket is a condition that occurs following tooth removal when a blood clot is not allowed to form or is dislodged, leading to exposure of the bone and nerves beneath the gum line. This condition can cause severe pain and raises the potential for infection.

If you have dry socket, you'll notice a partial or complete lack of a blood clot at the tooth removal site, which may look white, or possibly yellow, green, or black if an infection has occurred.

If you believe you have dry socket, don't hesitate to contact your dentist or oral surgeon. Swift treatment can help you avoid any complications.

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