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Before we delve into the details of wisdom tooth infection, let's start with defining what your wisdom teeth actually are.
Wisdom teeth (also referred to as the third molars) are the final set of molars to grow in. Dr. Anna Beattie
Most people will get them in their late teens or early 20's when they’re older and wiser than when they had their first permanent teeth, hence the name wisdom teeth. Dr. Anna Beattie
But just like other teeth, wisdom teeth are prone to various issues. They can decay, become impacted, get a cavity, or stay stuck below the gumline. This often results in wisdom tooth infection, a highly uncomfortable experience that can lead to excruciating pain.
What Is Wisdom Tooth Infection?
Wisdom tooth infection is medically known as pericoronitis, the inflammation or swelling of gum tissue. It often occurs on the lower set of wisdom teeth and can cause extreme pain.
What Causes Wisdom Tooth Infection?
Pericoronitis develops when food and bacteria get trapped around the wisdom tooth. This usually occurs when the tooth is impacted, i.e., it doesn’t grow through the gums correctly.
It’s either growing at an angle, completely tilted sideways, or has only partially broken through the gum.
In the latter case, the shape and angle of the partially erupted tooth provide more avenues for bacteria accumulation. There is also the operculum- soft tissue growth over a partially erupted third molar. Food and plaque can collect under this tissue, presenting another avenue for bacteria to accumulate around the tooth.
Wisdom teeth are also generally harder to clean due to their positioning at the back of the mouth. So, depending on how much attention you pay to your oral hygiene, you may be leaving avenues for bacteria to collect around the teeth. If the bacteria remain there for too long, it irritates the gum, causing pericoronitis.
Symptoms Of Wisdom Tooth Infection
The earliest symptom of a wisdom tooth infection is swelling of the gums around the top crown of the affected tooth.
How Do I Know That My Wisdom Tooth Is Infected?
Generally, the symptoms of wisdom tooth infection include:
- Tender, swollen gums accompanied by pain and sensitivity.
- A white fluid oozing around the tooth.
- Bad breath or a persistent bad taste in your mouth. These odours come from the bacteria that have accumulated in and or around the wisdom tooth.
- The infection may spread to the lymph glands under your jaw, throat, and face in severe cases. This results in jaw pain, stiffness, and swelling and a sore throat.
- It may also lead to headaches, chills, nausea, and fever if left untreated.
If you have had the above symptoms, the sensible next step is to visit a dentist.
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Common Effects Of Wisdom Tooth Infection
Depending on the degree of infection, pericoronitis may result in extreme pain. For instance, your top tooth can pressure the swelling when biting down, causing pain.
Also, the swelling happens close to the muscles controlling your jaw’s movement, which can make it painful to open your mouth.
Note that you may still experience pain even if your wisdom teeth aren’t infected. For instance, an erupting third molar may be painful when it’s not impacted. On the other hand, not all impacted teeth get infected, although most result in swollen and painful gums.
This is especially the case if you have a tight jaw structure with little room for the wisdom tooth to grow. The tooth is impacted and pressed against a neighbouring molar as it erupts, resulting in pain, tenderness, and swelling. This pressure may not necessarily lead to an infection, but it can cause fractures and damage the roots of the affected teeth.
Similarly, you may develop a cyst around your wisdom tooth. This is a fluid-filled sack of tissue that feels like a hard bump. It usually forms over an impacted wisdom tooth and feels painful when pressed on. It can also lead to pericoronitis and other complications if left unchecked. Dr. Peter Doherty
Pericoronitis Risk Factors
You’re more likely to get a wisdom tooth infection if you:
- Are aged between 17 and 25
- Have poor oral hygiene
- Have a tight jaw structure
Can I Treat My Wisdom Tooth Infection At Home?
You can’t exactly treat a wisdom tooth infection at home. However, the following home remedies should help with the pain and discomfort until you can finally secure the services of a dentist.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water regularly. The salt should temporarily slow down the bacteria and reduce the pain.
- You can also cold compress the affected tooth by placing an ice pack on the outside of your cheek. The extreme cold reduces the swelling and inflammation around the affected tooth.
- Mix equal parts of hydrogen peroxide and drinking water to make a mouthwash. Hydrogen peroxide is a potent antibacterial that should clean out the infected area.
- If the discomfort persists, you can use over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen for pain relief. Ibuprofen also helps reduce swelling of the gum around the wisdom tooth.
Wisdom teeth can be troublesome for many people with problems starting in the late teens and early twenties. Maintaining good oral hygiene reduces the chances of wisdom tooth infection. Dr. Peter Doherty
Visit A Dentist
You have to see a dentist to make sure that your infected wisdom tooth is taken care of. The dentist will clean and examine your wisdom teeth and take an x-ray of the affected area. This will help them determine if the tooth has partially erupted. They will then be able to decide on the best treatment for your particular situation.
If you are diagnosed with pericoronitis, treatment involves:
- Medications to clear up the infection around the tooth. These include taking antibiotics and painkillers for a week or two.
- If an impacted tooth or the infection results in a cavity, the dentist will perform dental surgery to repair your wisdom tooth.
- In some cases, the tooth has to be removed.
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Why Are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Wisdom teeth are removed if the partial eruption and infection damage the affected tooth. Impacted wisdom teeth can also be removed to prevent future infections.
How Are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
The dentist may also decide to extract both your upper and lower sets of wisdom teeth during complete removal. This prevents your upper molars from biting your lower gum and causing another infection.
The dentist may also remove the operculum to reduce the pain and inflammation and help the partially erupted tooth grow.
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