Dry sockets are the most common complication associated with surgical wisdom tooth extraction. When a wisdom tooth is extracted, a blood clot forms in the hole left by the tooth. This clot serves the same purpose as a scab on a wound; it protects the area while it heals.
A dry socket occurs when the blood clot is dislodged prematurely, before healing is sufficiently advanced. This slows healing, and is often very painful, as the jaw bone and nerve endings may be exposed. Dry sockets are treated by the application of a gauze packing soaked in oil of cloves to the empty socket. This dressing may need to be changed several times before healing can proceed unassisted.
Although the cause of all dry sockets is unknown, they can be caused by smoking and drinking through straws immediately after wisdom tooth extraction. The symptoms of a dry socket generally occur two to four days after surgery and appear as a dull, throbbing ache that is not relieved by over-the-counter medications. The ache can often spread to the ears, especially if the dry socket has occurred in the lower jaw.