Wisdom tooth infection (pericoronitis) is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue due to bacteria accumulating around the partially erupted or impacted tooth. Wisdom teeth form under the gums within a follicular sac. When this developmental sac is punctured during the eruption process, bacteria normally present in the mouth can be harbored in this newly-opened space. Often times the best treatment for pericoronitis is wisdom tooth extraction.
Results of Wisdom Tooth Infection From Bacteria
- Incomplete eruption: Wisdom tooth eruption often causes a flap of tissue (called operculum) to form where the tooth is pushing through. Food debris can collect between the operculum and the wisdom tooth, allowing bacteria to grow.
- Poor oral hygiene: Wisdom teeth can be difficult to reach for brushing and flossing which can lead to decay and subsequent infection.
- Impacted wisdom tooth: If the wisdom tooth is unable to completely erupt (impacted wisdom tooth), the gum flap can remain in place and, unless removed, continue to trap debris, harbor bacteria and cause wisdom tooth pain.
Wisdom tooth infection can be classified as transient (acute) or persistent (chronic). Transient pericoronitis typically occurs during the natural wisdom tooth eruption process and does not recur once the tooth fully emerges through the gum line. Symptoms of wisdom tooth pain can be treated by conservative measures. Persistent pericoronitis usually occurs in cases in which the wisdom tooth is partially erupted but cannot fully emerge due to impaction.Wisdom tooth infection can occur repeatedly in these cases because the environment is prime for bacteria and does not change since the eruption cannot progress.
Symptoms of Wisdom Tooth Infection
- Red, tender, or swollen gums
- Swelling in the cheek, face, or neck
- Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
- Moderate to severe tooth pain, which can spread to the throat or ear
- Unpleasant odor and/or bad taste in the mouth
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Pus in infected area (in severe cases)
Treating Wisdom Tooth Infection
Wisdom tooth infection will need to be professionally treated by your dentist. Initially, your dentist will likely focus on resolving your symptoms.
Treatment for wisdom tooth infection may include:
- Removal of debris (scraping and flushing) from under the gum flap to reduce bacteria
- Removal of dead gum tissue which may be trapping bacteria
- Oral antibiotics course
- Prescription mouth wash to keep bacterial load down
- Additional home irrigation of the area around the affected tooth
Your dentist may want to reevaluate the tooth once the wisdom tooth infection has subsided. Wisdom tooth infection (pericoronitis) is the most common reason for wisdom tooth removal according to research by the the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Learn more about wisdom teeth management by downloading their brochure.
While extraction may ultimately be the recommended course of treatment for your pericoronitis, the infection will need to be resolved before further treatment can proceed. Wisdom tooth infection, especially if chronic, should be carefully monitored. Severe pericoronitis can result in extensive bone loss and even be life-threatening, requiring hospitalization and possible surgery.
If you are experiencing wisdom tooth pain and/or other signs of wisdom tooth infection, please contact a doctor at Pacific Oral Surgery for an evaluation by submitting an online appointment request or call one of our Pacific Oral Surgery offices located in Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley.
Our team of oral, maxillofacial and dental implant surgeons, Dr. James Jacobs, Dr. John Webb, and Dr. Sebastian Carlson, welcomes you to our Pacific Oral Surgery practice.