A person’s mouth may not be large enough to accommodate the wisdom teeth that emerge in early adulthood. As a result, these teeth usually erupt at an odd angle and damage the neighboring teeth. Sometimes, wisdom teeth can get stuck in the gums.
As a result, wisdom teeth have a higher risk of getting infected. This not only affects the infected wisdom tooth but can also lead to various health complications.
Keep reading this guide from Flossy to find out what causes wisdom teeth to get infected, how to tell if your wisdom tooth is infected, and what you can do to treat your infected wisdom tooth.
On average, adults have 32 permanent teeth. This includes eight incisors (the front teeth), four canines (the sharp teeth next to the incisors); eight premolars; and 12 molars (the teeth in the back of the jaw).
Wisdom teeth are part of your molars. They are usually the last to grow in, showing up between the ages of 17 and 21. Usually, adults have four wisdom teeth in each corner of the jaw. Some adults have only two wisdom teeth, and some have none at all.
Although wisdom teeth were once essential for the early human diet of raw meat, plants, and roots, they are no longer necessary—especially considering that most people use utensils to cut up their food into smaller pieces.
What’s more, because modern-day human jaws are getting progressively smaller, they may not be able to accommodate our wisdom teeth. This can lead to many dental problems, such as an increased risk of a tooth infection.
The main reason why wisdom teeth get infected has to do with their position. Because they are located all the way in the back of the jaw, they are much harder to brush and floss. As a result, bacteria can accumulate in much greater amounts, which can lead to an infection.
Another reason why wisdom teeth are more likely to get infected is that some jaws simply do not have the space for them. As such, when these teeth begin to emerge in adulthood, they can become trapped in the jaw or under the gums—a condition referred to as impacted wisdom teeth. Impacted wisdom teeth that don’t fully emerge can give bacteria more space to enter the gums, increasing the chances of an infection forming.
Sometimes, your wisdom teeth can emerge in the wrong position. If they’re too close to the molars, then they might be hard to clean and cause bacteria to get trapped between these tight spaces. In addition, they can cause damage to neighboring teeth, which is another factor that increases the chances of a bacterial infection.
Because a tooth infection can have serious consequences—both for the infected tooth and your overall health—it is important to recognize it so you can get it treated as soon as possible. In the following section, we’ll cover some of the most common symptoms of a wisdom tooth infection so that you can quickly get to your dentist for treatment.
A wisdom tooth infection can be hard to identify because it can sometimes mimic other health problems. While it is always a good idea to see your dentist for a consultation if you suspect a possible tooth infection, sometimes you may not even be aware that you have one.
That said, if you experience the following ten symptoms, then it’s possible that you have an infected wisdom tooth:
Sensitive teeth on their own don’t necessarily indicate a tooth infection. Sometimes, it can be caused simply by the wearing away of tooth enamel, which requires a different treatment approach altogether.
However, if you notice that your back teeth are suddenly more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures, then it’s more likely the result of a tooth infection. The likelihood of this increases if you also experience any of the symptoms below.
A toothache will generally feel like a throbbing or gnawing pain on the inside of your tooth that doesn’t go away. The pain can vary in intensity from something you barely notice to the type of pain that makes it hard to go about your daily activities.
A toothache is caused by inflammation of the innermost part of your tooth—which is called the pulp. This part of the tooth is full of nerve-rich endings.
A toothache is a sign that the nerves in your teeth are inflamed. While an infection may not necessarily cause it, it’s very likely the reason why your tooth hurts. Whatever the cause, the pain should be addressed by a professional as soon as possible.
While a wisdom tooth infection is technically separate from gum infection, it is possible for both to occur at the same time. This is because bacteria from a tooth infection can spread to the gum, which can cause it to become inflamed. If your gums are inflamed, they will most likely become red, swollen, and painful to touch.
If your gums are infected, they may also begin to bleed. While this will usually occur due to harsh brushing, it is still a sign that your gums are experiencing significant inflammation. Most likely, this is the result of invading bacteria from an infected nearby tooth.
If your wisdom tooth is infected, then the pain from the infection can begin to radiate to your cheeks and jaw. In the later stages of a wisdom tooth infection, it is possible for the bacteria to actually enter the skin on your cheeks—a condition known as cellulitis—which can cause your cheek to become swollen.
Even if you don’t experience visible swelling, you may feel constant pain in your face that makes it hard to chew, speak, and lay on your side.
Although it may be hard to notice—since your wisdom teeth are in the back of your mouth—you may form an abscess around the tooth area. An abscess is a “pocket” of a puss that can look like a red or white cyst.
You may notice a small “ball” on your gum line if you look inside your mouth. You may also be able to feel it with your finger. Because an abscess accumulates bacteria, it is a sure sign that your wisdom tooth is infected.
If an abscess around your wisdom tooth begins to secrete, then you may have a salty taste in your mouth—or another taste that’s equally as unpleasant. Because an abscess is generally hard to notice, a sudden bad taste in your mouth is usually a more obvious sign that you have a wisdom tooth infection.
If a wisdom tooth infection goes unaddressed, it can begin spreading to the rest of the body. As a result, you may feel a fever that another health condition can’t explain. If you experience a body temperature above 100.4 ℉—in addition to any of the above symptoms— then it is very likely that you have a wisdom tooth infection that has progressed and requires immediate medical attention.
Most often, you will experience chills in addition to a fever. However, if you take your temperature and it turns out to be normal—which should be between 97.9 ℉ and 100.4 ℉—you do not have a fever.
However, chills usually precede a fever and can indicate that you may be on your way to developing one. As such, if you have chills and shaking without any apparent reason—in addition to the above symptoms—then it may be that you have a wisdom tooth infection.
Your lymph nodes are located below your jaw in the neck. These make up a part of your lymphatic system, which removes toxins from the body.
If there is an infection in the body, then your lymph nodes can become swollen. This happens as more white blood cells rush in to fight off an infecting pathogen, making your lymph nodes swell up in size.
While this symptom is more commonly the result of a respiratory infection, it can also be a sure indicator of an infected wisdom tooth.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, then you should make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.
Although some minor tooth infections can subside on their own, you will significantly decrease your chances of further complications if you see a professional for treatment. Depending on how severe the infection is, your dentist will likely treat you using a combination of medication and dental procedures.
When you come in for treatment, your dentist will thoroughly cleanse the infected wisdom tooth—in addition to the surrounding gums and teeth. Next, they will prescribe a round of antibiotics to help with killing the bacteria that caused the infection. Finally, your dentist will likely perform a dental procedure such as a root canal or an extraction.
While a root canal is the most common procedure for infected teeth, wisdom teeth present a slightly different problem. This is because they have roots that are either not separated from one another or roots that are oddly shaped. If the roots of your wisdom teeth are not straight, then it can be incredibly difficult to perform a root canal.
Most likely, your dentist will recommend a full extraction. This will not only get rid of the infection but prevent you from risking another infection or experiencing damage to the surrounding teeth. Read up on what you can expect from a tooth extraction procedure with Flossy.
Even if you don’t have a wisdom tooth infection, having wisdom teeth significantly increases your chances of developing one. For this reason, it’s a good idea to practice the proper prevention techniques to make sure you don’t end up getting one. Here are some tips to follow to prevent a wisdom tooth infection:
If you suspect a wisdom tooth infection, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. Flossy has a network of dental professionals that will quickly diagnose and treat your wisdom tooth infection—all at a fraction of most dentists. Schedule an appointment today to get your best dental treatment yet.
Before Agriculture, Human Jaws Were a Perfect Fit for Human Teeth | Smithsonian Magazine
Impacted wisdom teeth | Mayo Clinic
Symptoms of Tooth Infection Spreading to Body | Healthline
Sugars and Dental Caries: Evidence for Setting a Recommended Threshold for Intake | NCBI