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What to do for an infected wisdom tooth

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

When you hear the words "wisdom teeth". The next thing that probably comes to mind is "removal". Followed closely by "Hurrah! Ice cream for every meal!" Not so fast. The truth is, wisdom teeth don't always have to be extracted. In fact, if they come through correctly and with enough room, having them is good. However, if a wisdom tooth is infected, that's different. Here's what you should know.

Wisdom Teeth 101

Wisdom teeth are the four permanent teeth in the very back of your mouth. There are two on the top and two on the bottom. Typically, people get their wisdom teeth between ages 17 and 23, which is why they're called wisdom teeth – because they come in at such a mature age. Healthy wisdom teeth can help you chew.

What Type of Infection Can Happen With Wisdom Teeth?

A wisdom tooth that doesn't entirely come in can become infected, causing a condition known as pericoronitis. The tooth doesn't have enough room to come into the mouth, and the surrounding gum tissue forms a flap that covers the partially erupted tooth. Food particles can get trapped under the tissue flap, resulting in an infection in the gum around the wisdom tooth.

What Are Pericoronitis 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

You should contact your dentist if you are having any or all of those symptoms.

How is Pericoronitis Treated?

Your dentist will be able to determine the seriousness of the infection. During the exam, he or she will clean around and under the gum area. Your dentist will decide if a diligent oral care regimen or an extraction would be the best treatment. If you think you may have pericoronitis, it is important to get it checked out. A review in the International Journal of Dental and Medical Research (IJDMR) notes that left untreated, pericoronitis could become life-threatening.

What Else Can Cause Pain With Wisdom Teeth?

Sometimes your wisdom teeth don’t come in the way they are supposed to, and they become impacted. They grow in at odd angles towards another tooth or the back of the mouth, or they partially emerge due to lack of room in your mouth. Surgery is often required to remove impacted wisdom teeth.

What’s the Best Way to Take Care of Wisdom Teeth?

Follow your doctor’s orders. Have your wisdom tooth or teeth removed if your dentist thinks it’s best. If your dentist says they don’t need to be extracted, take care of your wisdom teeth by following a good oral care regimen that includes brushing and cleaning between your teeth at least twice a day.

Wisdom teeth don't automatically need to go. If they come in straight and have room, they are good to have. If you have a wisdom tooth that is infected or impacted, an extraction is necessary. If you're wise (see what we did there), you'll remember to keep up with regular dental checkups and professional cleanings.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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