Your wisdom teeth are molars. They’re the large teeth at the back of your mouth, sometimes called the third molars. They’re the last teeth to grow in. Most people get wisdom teeth between the ages of 17 and 25.
Like other teeth, a wisdom tooth can:
If you have a wisdom tooth infection, you’ll need treatment from a dentist. But not all pain is the result of a tooth infection. Below we discuss treatments for wisdom teeth infection and pain.
Wisdom teeth may get infected because they’re harder to clean. Food and bacteria can get trapped between the tooth and the gums. The space between your wisdom teeth and the back of your mouth can be easy to miss when you’re brushing and flossing.
An impacted wisdom tooth may not grow through your gums correctly. It may partially emerge, grow in at an angle, or develop completely sideways.
A partially impacted wisdom tooth has a higher risk of infection. This is because its shape and angle make decay more likely to happen. A tooth infection or cavity happens when an overgrowth of bacteria makes holes in the outer, hard enamel layer.
Several kinds of bacteria can cause an infection in and around a wisdom tooth. In rare cases, the infection can spread to other areas of the mouth and head. Types of bacteria that can lead to a tooth infection include:
- Eikenella corrodens
Treatment for a wisdom tooth infection may involve:
- medication to treat the tooth
- dental work to repair it
- surgery for tooth removal
Your dentist will examine your teeth and take an X-ray of the area. This will help determine what kind of treatment is best for your tooth.
You’ll need to take antibiotics to clear up an infection in a wisdom tooth. You may need to take this at least a week before having the affected tooth repaired or removed. Antibiotics help to heal an infected tooth and prevent bacteria from spreading.
Your dentist or doctor may prescribe antibiotics such as:
Your dentist may also recommend pain medication before and after wisdom tooth infection, including:
Once the infection is cleared up, you’ll need to see your dentist again to repair or remove the tooth. Fixing a cavity in a wisdom tooth is similar to patching up other teeth. You may need a filling or crown.
Your dentist may also file down the top or sides of the tooth. This removes rough or bumpy edges that can trap food and bacteria. It also helps to make the tooth slightly smaller if there’s crowding.
If your wisdom tooth is damaged, your dentist may completely or partly remove it. You may need dental surgery for an impacted wisdom tooth infection. Other impacted wisdom teeth may also be removed. This helps to prevent future infections.
Your dentist may remove gum tissue from the top of an impacted wisdom tooth to help it grow through. Another dental procedure removes only the top part of a wisdom tooth. This is called a coronectomy. This helps to protect the tooth roots, nerves, and the jawbone around the tooth.
Pulling a wisdom tooth can be complicated. You’ll need local anesthesia by an injection in the area, or general anesthesia. The procedure may take 20 minutes or longer. Your dentist may need to section the tooth and remove it in pieces. This helps to avoid injury to the nerves and jawbone.
Possible side effects and risks after wisdom tooth removal surgery include:
- numbness in your tongue, lower lip, or chin
- jawbone weakness
An infection in the mouth can happen two weeks or even up to two months after getting a wisdom tooth removed. Let your dentist know about any symptoms. You may need another dose of antibiotics to treat it.
Home remedies can’t treat a wisdom tooth infection. However, some simple treatments may give you temporary relief from the pain and discomfort. Try these remedies if you have to wait to see your dentist.
- Salt water rinse. Mix salt in warm or cold drinking water. Swish it around your mouth a few times and spit out. The salt helps to temporarily slow down some of the bacteria.
- Hydrogen peroxide. Dilute hydrogen peroxide in equal parts drinking water. Use this solution as a mouthwash. Hydrogen peroxide is antibacterial and will help remove some of the surface bacteria around the infection.
- Cold compress. Place an ice pack or a cold cloth compress on the outside of your cheek, over the infected area. The cold helps to soothe swelling and inflammation.
- Clove oil. Cloves contain natural antibacterial oils. Use a cotton swab to dab clove oil directly onto your wisdom tooth. Repeat a few times to help ease swelling and pain.
- Over-the-counter pain medication. Pain medication and numbing gels can help you cope with the pain and get a good night’s sleep before your dentist appointment. Pain medications and benzocaine numbing gels can help relieve minor tooth pain.
Your wisdom teeth can cause pain even if they’re not infected. You may also have pain after your wisdom tooth is removed. Other causes of a toothache are:
- Gum pain. The gums around or over a wisdom tooth can become infected. This is called pericoronitis. The infection causes painful, red and swollen gums.
- New or impacted tooth. A newly growing wisdom tooth can cause pain when it erupts through the gums. An impacted wisdom tooth can also cause pain, swelling, and inflammation in the gums.
- Crowding. If there isn’t enough room for the wisdom tooth to grow, it may be impacted and push against a neighboring tooth. This can cause other teeth to move slightly leading to pain, tenderness, and swelling. The pressure may also cause root damage and fractures in the teeth.
- Cysts. You may have a cyst around or over a wisdom tooth. A cyst is a fluid-filled sack that forms over a completely or partly impacted wisdom tooth. It might feel like a hard bump or swelling in the gum. The pressure against your tooth or jawbone can feel painful. A cyst can lead to an infection and other complications.
- Dry socket. Dry socket is a common dental condition that happens when the empty tooth socket doesn’t heal properly. Normally a blood clot forms in the tooth socket. This protects the bone and nerve endings in the jaw. If this doesn’t happen, the exposed nerves may cause pain that begins one to three days after the tooth is pulled out.
- Socket infection. You can get an infection after a wisdom tooth has been removed. This is more likely if you have a dry or empty socket and the area fills with food debris and bacteria. This leads to infection, pain, and swelling.
- Poor healing. Slowed healing can cause pain to continue even after you have an infected wisdom tooth pulled. Smoking and poor nutrition can delay healing and lead to a dry socket or gum infection. Medications that lower immunity, such as chemotherapy treatments, can also delay healing. Sometimes the empty socket may not heal at all. This can lead to an infection in the gums or jawbone.
Call your dentist and make an appointment if you have any pain or discomfort in or around a wisdom tooth. This area can be difficult to see. You’ll likely need a dental exam and an X-ray scan to find out what’s causing the pain.
Don’t ignore any teeth, gum, or jaw symptoms such as:
- pain or sensitivity
- tender or swollen gums
- red or bleeding gums
- white fluid or oozing around teeth
- bad breath
- bad taste in your mouth
- jaw pain
- jaw swelling
- stiff jaw
- difficulty breathing, opening your mouth, or speaking
You may also have a fever, chills, nausea, or headache pain because of a wisdom tooth infection.
You can’t prevent an impacted wisdom tooth. See your dentist for regular checkups to help prevent wisdom tooth complications.
Good dental hygiene, such as brushing and flossing several times a day, can help keep your wisdom teeth from getting infected.