There aren't many better oral care conversation-starters than wisdom teeth. Each story usually consists of at least one impaction, not remembering the drive home due to the residual effects of anesthesia and the gobs of ice cream you indulged in for two days straight.
But impaction isn't always the only reason for removal. An infected wisdom tooth can also land you in this common form of oral surgery.
Wisdom teeth are the four permanent teeth found in the very back of the mouth â€“ two on top and two on the bottom. Known as the third molars, they usually emerge in people between the ages of 17 and 25, as estimated by Mayo Clinic. And when they don't break through the gums normally, it becomes a problem for the surrounding teeth. Sometimes they grow at odd angles in the direction of an existing tooth, or toward the back of the mouth. A wisdom tooth can also partially emerge due to a lack of room. Each of these cases is known as an impacted tooth.
A part of your gumline naturally breaches when a wisdom tooth finally breaks through the skin, but often just partially â€“ because it doesn't have enough room to grow. Food particles can then become trapped by that flap of tissue, resulting in an infection in the gum surrounding the wisdom tooth. This is known as pericoronitis, according to The Ohio State University, and it has the following symptoms:
- Painful or swollen gum tissue around the wisdom tooth
- A foul smell or taste in your mouth
- Fever or frequent chills
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Spasms in the jaw muscles
Consult your dentist if you experience any or all of those symptoms.
Once pericoronitis has been diagnosed, there are three main possibilities: The entire tooth emerges naturally, the gum flap is removed or the tooth itself is extracted. Your dentist will clean the area around and under the gum to remove food particles â€“ and show you how to do the same. He or she will also be able to determine if removing the wisdom tooth is the best (or only) course of action.
Keep in mind that pericoronitis can develop into a life-threatening condition, according to the Canadian Dental Association, but it all depends on the seriousness of the infection.
What You Can Do
This is why it is imperative to keep your mouth healthy. If your dentist deems wisdom teeth removal a necessary procedure, there's not much you can do about it. Whether they're simply impacted or you have an infected wisdom tooth, maintaining your oral care is in your control. Good oral care is a crucial aspect of overall health, and it starts with brushing at least twice a day along with daily flossing. Use ColgateÂ® Cavity Protection Toothpaste to guard against cavities â€“ which are the last thing you need amid a tooth that's already infected.
If you're on the go constantly, toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss are all small enough to take with you or keep in your desk at work. And remember to schedule regular checkups with your dentist.