Your wisdom teeth might seldom come up in your daily thought, and why would they? Not everyone has them in the first place, and unless they’re directly causing problems, you probably don’t even know they’re present.
They can, however, cause many problems and since they’re so often out of mind, you might not even consider them. From mundane cavities to impaction, infection, and other problems, wisdom teeth should be monitored, cared for, and if necessary, removed.
Let’s look at some ways that your wisdom teeth can be problematic, how to identify some of these problems, and how you can get relief.
How Do I Know My Wisdom Tooth Is Infected?
Like any tooth infection, one of the first signs is pain. For wisdom teeth, the pain might come from the tooth itself, but it is also common for the teeth in front of the wisdom tooth to be painful and/or infected.
When your wisdom teeth aren’t properly aligned, they can create an environment that makes tooth decay more likely, as it’s harder to clean the area well.
As with any infection, it’s possible for the bacteria to spread to nearby tissue, including your other teeth, jaw, or gums. Some other signs of wisdom tooth infection are:
- Red, swollen gums near the tooth
- Pus or other drainage, especially if the tooth is below the gumline
- Painful jaw movement – even speaking can hurt, and chewing would be difficult
- Enlarged and painful lymph nodes on the same side as the potential infection (in the neck)
- Fever and chills
- Foul-smelling breath
- Headaches on the infected side
When the teeth aren’t fully erupted, they can be hard to care for. The more plaque that builds up or cavities that form, the more opportunity for infection to arise.
As tooth decay progresses, it can cause an infection. When decay is not treated, it can advance into the pulp of the tooth where the bacteria cause inflammation of the pulp itself.
Pulpitis can cause spontaneous, long-lasting, sharp pain that affects sleep and overall quality of life. If left untreated, it can infect the root itself, causing pus and pain on biting.
How Impaction Affects Infection Chances
When wisdom teeth come in at an angle that isn’t straight, it can cause overcrowding or damage the gums surrounding them.
This impaction makes it harder to clean the teeth in the area, which causes plaque to accumulate. As the accumulated plaque hardens, it becomes tartar which is full of bacteria, which in turn creates inflammation in the area.
Complications of Poor Wisdom Tooth Alignment
Beyond just the unpleasantness of a wisdom tooth infection, there can be other complications and problems that arise from poorly aligned wisdom teeth.
- Damage to your other teeth – infection from your wisdom teeth can spread to your other teeth as well as your gums, and this can turn into a significant problem. Additionally, the infection can move to your jaw and other surrounding tissue. In some rare but serious cases, the infection can go into your blood and cause sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection.
- Sores in the mouth – when wisdom teeth come in at a bad angle and are prone to infection, they can also cause abrasions in the mouth or gumline that can get infected. These sores or mouth ulcers are painful and make eating, speaking, and even drinking liquid difficult.
- Abscess- infections in the gums or in wisdom teeth that spread to the jaw can cause enclosed pouches of pus and fluid. These pockets are incredibly painful and can cause permanent damage to your jaw and teeth. They often require significant surgery to remove
- Pericoronitis – infection of the gums around the wisdom tooth is called pericoronitis and it’s incredibly painful. In addition to the pain, this disease makes eating – specifically chewing – extremely difficult.
Leaving a wisdom tooth infection untreated can lead to the above complications and more.
Thankfully, wisdom tooth removal isn’t difficult, nor is it really painful. If you have or suspect you have an infection, however, you must speak with a dentist as quickly as possible to mitigate potential long-term damage.
Recovery from a wisdom tooth removal usually involves some modified mouth care and a list of foods you shouldn’t eat.
Additionally, it’s important to avoid using straws while you recover from wisdom tooth removal, as using them can cause some painful complications. Your dentist will give you a list of considerations to care for your mouth after surgery.
Treating An Infected Wisdom Tooth
At the first sign of an infected wisdom tooth, your dentist will assess the level and severity of the situation. In some cases, antibiotics will be given for several days to clear up the primary infection, but the root source of the problem needs to be addressed.
In most cases, the best path forward is to remove the wisdom tooth entirely to prevent the reoccurrence of an infection or other complications down the line.
How Dentists Assess Wisdom Tooth Problems
Most dentists will use x-rays to determine how your wisdom teeth are developing. If it looks like they will have room to move in without impacting other teeth or entering your gumline at a strange angle, your dentist might move forward with a cautious wait-and-see approach.
If the teeth come in normally and cause no issues, you might simply be lucky enough to have your wisdom teeth with no complications.
For other people, your dentist will determine if the potential threat of future problems is worth removal. Though removing a tooth isn’t a big deal in most situations, surgery shouldn’t be taken lightly, and there are typically 4 wisdom teeth to deal with.
Recovery from a single wisdom tooth removal is simple, but getting all four out at one time is also an option, so it’s done, and you don’t need to worry about it in the future.
With that said, dealing with recovery from 4 teeth removed at once can make for a difficult week or two. While it’s mostly an inconvenience, sometimes people don’t want to have to deal with that and opt instead for only having one or two done at once (right side top and bottom on one day, for instance).
In some cases, only one or two wisdom teeth might pose a problem, and in that case, your dentist will only opt to remove those.
After surgery, you may have a mild course of antibiotics again to ensure that no more bacteria exist in the blood and the infection is dead and gone. With the underlying source of infection gone, the bacteria cleared up, and your mouth on the mend, you shouldn’t have any other problems going forward.
Preventing Wisdom Tooth Infections
While you cannot always prevent infections, there are some steps you can take to diminish your chances of it coming up.
- Make sure you brush twice daily and ensure you’re getting the furthest edges of your mouth.
- Floss daily as well, particularly on those molars on the very ends of your mouth – these are often the most neglected and hardest to reach.
- Consider regularly using mouthwash to keep mouth bacteria at bay between brushings.
- See your dentist for cleanings at least twice a year, based on their recommendations. They can get into places and assess a need for cleaning that you can’t by yourself.
With proper dental hygiene and regular monitoring from a dentist, you should be able to prevent wisdom tooth infections. Your dentist can determine if removing your wisdom teeth as a preventative measure is something to consider, which can help prevent issues further down the line.
If you are experiencing any wisdom teeth issues, do not hesitate to drop by so we can take a look for you. Our dental professionals at Ocean Dental would be happy to explain the treatments available.