Wisdom Tooth Abscess: Causes, Pain Relief & Treatment

Have you ever experienced pain at the back of your mouth, around your wisdom teeth? You try to ignore it, hoping the pain is temporary and will go away soon. But it doesn’t. Instead, the tooth pain intensifies, radiating across your jaw and making even the simplest activities like eating or speaking painful. This may be a sign of a dental abscess, a dental infection that should not be taken lightly. An untreated abscess can affect oral health and lead to serious complications. In this post, we’ll discuss wisdom tooth abscess, its potential causes, and most importantly, what you can do about it.

What is a Wisdom Tooth Abscess?

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last set of teeth to grow in your mouth. They usually come through the gums at the back of your mouth during your late teenage years or early twenties. Sometimes, there is limited space in the mouth for these new teeth, and they become impacted (meaning they are unable to fully emerge). This can cause various problems, including damage to nearby teeth, pericoronitis, tooth decay, and a dental abscess.

A wisdom tooth abscess is the result of a bacterial infection, leading to an accumulation of pus at the root of the wisdom tooth or within the surrounding gum tissue. Types of dental abscess include:

  • Periapical tooth abscess: It occurs when tooth decay bacteria reaches the tooth pulp (the nerves and soft tissue inside your teeth), causing an infection at the tip of the tooth root.
  • Periodontal abscess: It develops in the gums due to severe gum disease (periodontitis) or trapped food particles or foreign bodies between teeth and gums.
  • Pericoronal abscess: When the wisdom tooth does not have enough space to fully come through the gums, a flap of gum tissue (dental operculum) may grow over it. This can cause the accumulation of bacteria and food particles, causing an infection in the surrounding tissues.

Causes of Wisdom Tooth Abscess 

A wisdom tooth abscess is mainly caused by two factors; poor oral hygiene and tooth impaction. When you do not brush or floss your teeth regularly, food debris, plaque, and bacteria can build up, leading to tooth decay and gum disease. This can cause a periodontal or periapical tooth abscess.

Impaction of the wisdom tooth occurs when there is limited space in your mouth for it to fully emerge. As a result, the tooth may only partially erupt or remain trapped under the gum tissues. This makes it difficult to clean, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and leading to the development of an abscess.

Other factors that may contribute to a wisdom tooth infection include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco 
  • Poor nutrition 
  • A weakened immune system
  • Certain medical conditions that affect saliva production or cause dry mouth (xerostomia) 

Signs and Symptoms

A dental abscess is a painful condition and a clear indicator of infection. Common symptoms of an abscessed wisdom tooth include:

  • Tooth pain
  • Swelling in the gums or jaw
  • Pus pocket on gums
  • Pain when chewing or biting down
  • Jaw pain
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Bad breath

Signs of severe infections include:

  • Difficulty opening your mouth or swallowing
  • Facial swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever

If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your dentist immediately. Ignoring a wisdom tooth abscess can lead to serious complications, such as the spread of infection to other parts of the body, airway obstruction, and even sepsis, a life-threatening condition.

A patient suffers from an impacted wisdom tooth (lower third molar).
An impacted wisdom tooth is difficult to clean, leading to the development of a tooth abscess.

Effective Home Remedies for Abscessed Tooth Pain

When dealing with an abscessed tooth, there are several home remedies that can provide temporary pain relief. These methods are not substitutes for professional dental care but can help manage symptoms until you can see a dentist.

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Taking pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and inflammation. Always follow the recommended dosage instructions.
  • Warm salt water rinse: Rinsing your mouth with warm water mixed with salt can help cleanse the area, reduce bacterial growth, and provide temporary pain relief. Repeat several times a day for best results.
  • Cold compress: Applying a cold compress to the outside of your cheek can help numb the pain and reduce swelling. Hold the compress in place for 15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Antiseptic mouthwash: Using an antiseptic mouthwash can help keep your mouth clean and reduce bacterial growth, which can prevent the infection from worsening.
  • Dental hygiene: Maintaining good dental hygiene is crucial. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss regularly to keep your mouth clean and prevent further infection.

These home remedies can help manage the symptoms of an abscessed tooth and provide temporary pain relief. However, it is essential to consult a dentist as soon as possible to address the root cause of the infection and receive appropriate treatment.

Wisdom Tooth Abscess Treatment

The dental treatment for a wisdom tooth abscess depends on the underlying causes and the condition of the tooth. Your dentist may recommend the following dental procedures for wisdom tooth abscess treatment:

  • Antibiotics: Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help bring the infection under control. However, this will only provide temporary relief and does not address the root cause of the problem.
  • Draining the abscess: In some cases, your dentist may make a small incision in the gum to drain the pus and relieve pressure.
  • Tooth extraction: If the wisdom tooth is infected, damaged, or impacted, your oral surgeon may recommend wisdom tooth removal. This will not only remove the source of infection but also prevent future complications.

It is important to follow your dentist’s instructions and attend any follow-up appointments to ensure complete healing.

Extraction of the Wisdom Tooth

The most common and effective treatment for a wisdom tooth abscess is extraction. Your oral surgeon will carefully remove the tooth to eliminate the source of infection and prevent further complications. Wisdom tooth removal can be simple or complex, depending on the position and condition of the tooth.

Is It Worth Doing a Root Canal on a Wisdom Tooth?

Root canal treatment is a common procedure used to treat an abscessed tooth caused by infection in the tooth pulp. During the procedure, the dental professionals remove the infected pulp from the root canals and seal the pulp canals to prevent further tooth infection and restore the tooth’s health and functionality.

However, when it comes to wisdom teeth, dentists generally do not recommend this option for several reasons:

  • Difficulty accessing the tooth: Wisdom teeth are located at the back of the mouth and can be difficult for dentists to access, making root canal treatment more challenging.
  • Limited success rate: Wisdom teeth are often difficult to treat with root canal therapy due to their complex roots and position, leading to a lower success rate compared to other teeth.
  • Risk of further complications: Root canal treatment on wisdom teeth can also lead to complications such as nerve damage or damage to surrounding teeth due to the location and complexity of the procedure.
  • Long-term effectiveness: In many cases, even if the root canal treatment is successful, wisdom teeth may still cause problems in the future due to their position and potential for re-infection.

When to Seek Emergency Dental Care

Knowing when to visit a hospital emergency department for a dental emergency is crucial for ensuring timely and appropriate treatment, as delaying treatment can lead to the spread of infections to other parts of the body and life-threatening conditions.

While mild dental issues can often wait for a regular dental appointment, certain symptoms indicate a dental emergency, requiring immediate medical attention.

  • Severe pain: If you experience intense, throbbing pain that radiates to your jaw, ear, or neck, it could be a sign of a severe infection. This level of discomfort is a clear indicator that you need emergency care.
  • Swelling: Severe swelling in your face or gums, especially if it spreads beyond the immediate area of the abscess, warrants a visit to the emergency dentist. Swelling can obstruct your airway, making it a medical emergency.
  • Fever: The presence of a fever alongside other symptoms indicates that the oral infection might be spreading, necessitating prompt medical attention.
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing: These symptoms are critical and signify that the infection may be compromising your airway. Immediate emergency care is essential.

If you experience previous severe symptoms, visiting a hospital emergency department is crucial. These signs indicate a potentially severe infection that requires immediate medical attention. The hospital emergency department is equipped to manage critical conditions, provide pain relief, and prevent complications from spreading infections. Prompt treatment can ensure your safety and prevent further health issues.

Prevention of Wisdom Tooth Abscess

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to dental health. With proper oral care, you can prevent oral health issues:

  • Good oral hygiene: Proper brushing, flossing, and using an antibacterial mouthwash can help keep your teeth and gums healthy, reducing the risk of infection.
  • Regular dental check-ups: Visiting your dentist regularly allows them to monitor the development of your wisdom teeth and detect any potential issues early on.
  • Professional teeth cleaning: Regular dental cleanings can remove plaque and tartar buildup, reducing the risk of infection.
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco use: Smoking can dry out your mouth and decrease saliva production, which can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay and infection. It can also weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off infections.
  • Seek treatment for wisdom tooth impaction: If your wisdom teeth are impacted or causing problems, it is best to visit your dentist for wisdom teeth removal before they develop into serious oral health issues.

Conclusion

A wisdom tooth abscess is a collection of pus caused by an infection in the tooth or surrounding gum tissue. It is a serious dental condition that requires prompt treatment to prevent further complications.

If you experience any symptoms of a wisdom tooth abscess, such as severe pain, gum swelling, and jaw pain, seek dental care immediately. Treatment options may include antibiotics, drainage of the abscess, and removal of the wisdom tooth.

Visit the hospital emergency department if you experience symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or breathing, high fever, or spreading swelling in your face or neck. These could indicate a severe infection that requires urgent medical attention to prevent complications such as airway obstruction or systemic infection.

By practicing good oral hygiene and seeking professional dental care, you can prevent a wisdom tooth abscess and maintain your overall dental health. Remember to consult with your dentist regularly to monitor the development of your wisdom teeth and address any potential concerns before they become more serious.

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