Wisdom teeth are the last adult teeth to break through the gums and erupt into the mouth. They are the third and final set of molars that come in when you’re older, between 17 and 25 years of age. Usually, these third molars (M3s) grow way back in your mouth, with one in each of the furthest corners of the top and bottom gums.
Anthropologists believe that the wisdom teeth or third molars (M3s) were once essential to humans in early life, helping them grind roots, meat, leaves, and nuts. But due to evolution, our jawbones have gotten smaller over time to accommodate the growing human brain. So there isn’t always enough room to accommodate the wisdom teeth since by the time they are growing, the other 28 adult teeth are usually in place.
It is not surprising for the wisdom teeth to never erupt from your gums hence won’t ever become visible unless under X-ray. When wisdom teeth fail to erupt and remain enclosed within the jawbone or soft tissue, they are called impacted teeth and can cause pain or damage the roots of the nearby teeth.
If this set of teeth emerge at an angle or get stuck and only emerge partially, they can give room for bacteria to enter the gums, resulting in a wisdom tooth infection. A wisdom tooth infection can cause serious oral problems that can be difficult to treat.
What Are The Causes Of A Wisdom Tooth Infection?
The wisdom tooth infection happens when cavity-causing bacteria accumulate around the tooth’s soft tissue leading to acute or chronic inflammation. The bacteria can also make holes in the outer, hard enamel layer of the tooth causing an infection in the tooth itself. Some of the causes of wisdom tooth infection include:
1. The Wisdom Tooth Breaks Through Your Gums Partially
When a wisdom tooth partially erupts from the gum, it pushes through the soft tissue and breaks in from one side. This can cause a flap of the gum tissue, also known as an operculum, to grow over the tooth enamel. As a result, food debris, plaque, and bacteria can get trapped under the operculum leading to a wisdom tooth infection. If left unattended, this infection can cause the formation of abscess and later escalate to infect other neighboring soft tissues.
2. The Wisdom Tooth Comes In Crooked Pushing Against The Teeth Next To It
Due to lack of space, wisdom teeth can get misaligned and grow at an angle. At some point, they can break through the gum pushing the teeth beside them. Food particles and bacteria can get stuck between the wisdom teeth and the teeth next to it, leading to an infection.
3. Crowded Teeth In The Upper Jaw May Force The Wisdom Teeth To Grow Sideways
If a wisdom tooth won’t just fit in the jaw, it can start growing sideways. Soon, the tooth may start rubbing against the cheek causing an infection that can quickly spread to other soft tissues around the teeth and mouth.
4. They Are Located At The Farthest Corner Of The Mouth
Even if the wisdom teeth fully erupt, they are highly susceptible to infections due to their location. They are found at the farthest corners of the mouth that are hard to reach when brushing or flossing. Food particles can slowly accumulate around the teeth, attracting bacteria that could cause an infection.
5. Wisdom Tooth Extraction
Common Symptoms of Wisdom Tooth Infection
Some of the common signs of an infected wisdom tooth include:
· Sore and swollen lymph nodes underneath the jaw
· Red, inflamed gum near the wisdom tooth
· Tender or bleeding gums
· Difficulty opening the mouth
· Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
· Pain in or around the tooth
· Fever or frequent chills
· Bad taste in the mouth due to pus leaking from the gums
· Jaw stiffness near an impacted tooth.
What to Do?
It’s normal to feel a little discomfort when your wisdom teeth appear. But if you have persistent pain that lasts more than a few days, it is important to check in with your dentist immediately. Your dentist will examine the teeth and take an X-ray of the area to determine the best treatment.
It is also recommended that you visit your dentist at least twice a year when your wisdom teeth are coming in. This allows the dentist to check on the progress of your wisdom teeth and make early interventions to prevent more serious dental problems down the road.
If you ignore the pain and delay getting dental treatment, the wisdom tooth infection pain may get severe leading to swelling and jaw spasms which may need emergency dental care.
What Are Risk Factors For An Infected Wisdom Tooth?
If left unattended, a wisdom tooth infection can lead to other health complications. These include:
A wisdom tooth infection can lead to the formation of a dental cyst. This is a sac of fluid that forms near the tooth and could damage the jawbone, the roots of nearby teeth and nerves. In rare conditions when the cyst forms a non-cancerous tumor, it may require the removal of the tissue or surrounding jawbone.
· Damage To Other Teeth.
If a wisdom tooth is misaligned and grows towards the second molar, it may push and exert pressure that can damage the second molar. A misaligned wisdom tooth also increases the risk of infection in that area. The eruption of a wisdom tooth can also lead to teeth crowding that may require orthodontic treatment to straighten the other teeth.
Partially erupted wisdom teeth are more susceptible to tooth decay since they are harder to clean. Food debris and cavity-causing bacteria can quickly accumulate around the teeth leading to the formation of holes on the teeth enamel.
· Gum Disease.
Wisdom teeth increase the risk of getting a painful, inflammatory soft tissue condition known as pericoronitis.
· Severe/ Recurrent Infections
A wisdom tooth infection can spread through the jaw, mouth, and throat leading to severe, recurrent infections. In rare cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis.
Best Home Remedies To Reduce Infected Wisdom Tooth Pain
When the wisdom teeth start erupting, they might get misaligned or partially impacted, leading to an infection due to food and bacteria accumulation around the teeth. You might start experiencing persistent headaches and toothaches as the gum becomes inflamed.
Infected wisdom tooth pain can be excruciating and extremely uncomfortable. In such cases, the best course of action is visiting your dentist to have the teeth examined for the best-fit treatment option.
Most dentists recommend that wisdom teeth should be removed when the pain becomes a bother. However, due to work and family commitments, it is not always possible to get to the dentist immediately to get the teeth removed.
Below are some home remedies to help you alleviate the pain as you wait for the scheduled dentist appointment:
1. Saltwater Swish And Rinse
This is one of the most popular home remedies for toothache. Research has shown that rinsing your teeth and gums with salty water can kill harmful bacteria and promote overall gum health.
The salty water creates an alkaline environment in your mouth that is not favorable for bacteria to thrive. The saltwater swish and rinse process also dislodge any bacteria and food particles that could be aggravating the pain.
To get the most effective result, add 2 tablespoons of salt to a glass of warm water and stir until it is completely dissolved. Then, swish the mixture in your mouth for about a minute and then spit out. Repeat the swish and rinse process every few hours to alleviate the toothache.
Onions contain antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial phytochemicals that help target infection-causing germs and bacteria, hence bringing the much-needed pain relief. Cut an onion and place it inside your cheeks so it can discharge some onion juice.
For higher efficacy, you can chew the onion on the side of your mouth that is in pain and let it settle in for a few minutes before rinsing. This helps to alleviate the pain.
3. Crushed Garlic And Ginger
Research has shown that crushed garlic and ginger possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic chemicals that kill pathogens that infect the gum and mouth soft tissues.
Crush ginger cloves and garlic into a paste-like consistency and apply the paste on the gum around the infected tooth. You will start experiencing pain relief in no time.
Peppermint is a very effective age-old remedy that helps alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
One of the application processes is to take fresh peppermint leaves and place them around the infected soft tissues for about 20 minutes. The leaves release the essential oils helping reduce the pain.
You can also soak a cotton swab into the peppermint oil extract and apply it to the painful gums. Alternatively, rub the oil gently on the inflamed wisdom teeth or drink cold peppermint tea for similar pain-relieving effects.
5. Clove Oil/Clove Buds
Clove extracts have been found to have analgesic effects that can help relieve toothache. They contain a chemical known as eugenol which has a unique numbing effect that alleviates pain and inflammation. The chemical is also a strong antibacterial agent.
Soak a cotton swab in clove oil and place it on the inflamed area, allowing it to sit in for about 5-15 minutes before rinsing with hot water. If you find the clove oil flavor to be too strong, you can dilute it in coconut oil. Repeat the treatment every few hours until you experience total pain relief.
Instead of the clove oil, you can also crush a clove bud and tuck it inside your cheek and let it sit in for 5-15 minutes before disposing it.
6. Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract also contains Eugenol which has analgesic and antiseptic properties. Applying vanilla extract helps relieve pain and kill infection-causing germs around the infected teeth and tissues.
Put vanilla extract on a cotton ball or cotton swab and rub it on the inflamed gum and affected tooth.
You can also put a few drops of vanilla extract into a glass of water and swish around in the mouth before spitting out.
Turmeric is believed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that help reduce wisdom teeth pain.
You can use the turmeric as a rub by rubbing crushed turmeric on the inflamed gums. You could also mix turmeric with baking powder and toothpaste to make a thick, consistent paste. Rub the paste around the infected wisdom tooth and let it sit in for a few minutes before rinsing.
Another application method is rinsing your mouth with water that has been boiled with turmeric.
8. Apply Ice Or Frozen Vegetables
If you have a swollen gum due to the infection, you can use ice to reduce the swelling and numb your nerves for soothing pain relief.
Simply wrap ice cubes or frozen vegetables with a towel and hold it against the swollen area from the outside for 15-20 minutes to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
9. Cucumber Slices
Cucumber slices work in the same way as ice but from the inside. Clean cucumber and slice it into small pieces. Place the cucumber slices in a refrigerator and place them directly on the inflamed area to soothe the ache and relief the pain.
10. Tea Bags
If the gum around your wisdom teeth has swollen hence causing pain, tea bags can help alleviate the pain. Teabags have robust anti-inflammatory properties thanks to tannic acid.
The most effective way is to brew a cup of tea and place it in the refrigerator with the tea bag inside the cup. Then, take the cold tea bag and place it over the inflamed gums for instant pain relief.
To ensure that the soft tissues around the infected wisdom tooth don’t get inflamed, it is important to brush and floss regularly during the day to dislodge any food particles and bacteria that can aggravate the infection. If all the above remedies fail, consider using over-the-counter numbing gels and pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin to stop a throbbing toothache.
Wisdom Tooth Infection Treatment
The treatment options for a wisdom tooth infection depends on the cause and the severity of the infection. Dentists use X-ray images to help tell the severity of the problem and guide on the best treatment options.
Your dentist may choose a conservative approach to treat the wisdom tooth infection if there is no medical need to remove the teeth. However, if your wisdom tooth is misaligned and infected, surgical extraction of the tooth is often recommended to prevent further infections and damage to the surrounding areas.
1. The Conservative Approach
This is a non-invasive approach that promotes oral hygiene to prevent further infection of the wisdom teeth. Once you start experiencing pain, your dentist may examine your teeth and recommend this non-invasive approach which involves:
· Thorough cleaning of the infected wisdom tooth and the surrounding teeth and gum to dislodge food debris, plaque, and infection-causing bacteria.
· Consistent use of antiseptic mouthwash to kill all germs
· An antibiotics prescription to help heal the infected tooth and gum and prevent bacteria from spreading. Common antibiotic prescriptions include: amoxicillin, penicillin, clindamycin, metronidazole, metronidazole, and metronidazole
· Pain medication to reduce pain. These include aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and Iornoxicam.
· Wisdom teeth repair to fill down the top or sides of the tooth and fill any cavities.
2. Surgical Approach
If the wisdom tooth is hugely misaligned or extremely infected, the dentist may recommend its partial or complete removal to prevent further infection and get rid of the pain permanently. The American Dental Association usually recommends the surgical approach if a patient has:
· crooked teeth
· increased tooth decay
· Chronic jaw pain
· cysts under the gums and possibly tumors
The good news is, wisdom teeth removal is a seamless process that involves the use of anesthetic to numb the pain of surgery. The process takes around 20 minutes.
· One of the options to get rid of the problem is to remove the flap of the gum tissue on top of the teeth, also known as an operculum, to help the teeth grow.
· Another option is to remove the top of the wisdom teeth to reduce the gum inflammation without destroying the tooth roots, nerves, and jawbone around the tooth.
While most of the tooth removal surgeries are smooth and unproblematic, a small percentage of patients report having side effects such as:
· Facial swelling in
· Numbness in the tongue, chin or lower lip
· Jawbone weakness
· Infection, 2 weeks after the tooth removal.
If these side effects don’t wane off in a couple of days, you should consult with your dentist. They may prescribe more potent pain relievers and antibiotics, if necessary.
Having regular dental checkups can help monitor the emergence and development of your wisdom teeth, allowing the dentist to mitigate any problems and make early interventions to prevent more serious dental problems. Good oral hygiene, such as flossing and brushing after every meal can help keep your wisdom teeth from getting infected.
Remember, wisdom teeth do not start causing chronic pain until they start to do damage. It is therefore recommended to visit your dentists for a checkup immediately you start experiencing any pain or other symptoms of wisdom tooth infection to avoid further complications.