The position of your wisdom teeth in the back and sides of your mouth can make it difficult to keep them clean and healthy. If you still have your wisdom teeth, you should know the signs of a wisdom tooth infection and when to seek help from a dentist.
Infected wisdom tooth symptoms
When you get an infection in a wisdom tooth or in the gum around the wisdom tooth it can be tough to know if it’s an infection because the symptoms of a wisdom tooth infection can also be symptoms of other problems. A good rule of thumb is to assume that if you have two or more of the following symptoms it could be an infection, and if you have three or more of these symptoms¹ see your doctor or dentist right away to see if you do have an infection and need treatment. Some of the most common infected wisdom tooth symptoms are:
A fever is your body’s natural response to infection. If you have a fever your body is trying to fight off something, which could be a wisdom tooth infection. Fever is one of the clearest signs of some kind of dental infection so if you know that you still have your wisdom teeth and you start to run a fever you should get to your dentist to determine whether you have a dental infection.²
Chills usually occur with fever, but they can also occur on their own. If you’re getting chills when it’s warm outside or if you get chills that last for an extended period, those chills could be due to a fever and a wisdom teeth infection. Because chills usually occur with a fever if you do get the chills, check your temperature to see if you’re running a fever.³
3. Jaw or face pain
Any time you have pain in your face it could be from your teeth, but if you’re having pain in your jaw or the sides of your face it could be from an impacted or infected wisdom tooth. Because your wisdom teeth are in the back and the side of your mouth if you have an infection in a wisdom tooth you will most likely feel pain in your jaw or in the side of your face. However, pain in your teeth and your mouth can radiate, so it’s possible that you would feel pain in another part of your face or in your mouth.⁴
Toothache pain is unlike any other type of pain. If you feel pain that feels like a constant throbbing on the inside of your tooth, that could mean that you have an infection. The throbbing could be intense, or it could feel more like a dull ache that is constantly throbbing in your tooth. If you have a throbbing toothache it means there is some sort of problem with your tooth that needs dental professional attention.⁵
5. Bad breath or taste in the mouth
If you have bad breath that doesn’t go away with adequate hygiene, you may have an infection in a tooth or in your gums. If you experience a sudden flush of bad tasting salty liquid in your mouth, that could mean that you have an infection and that the abscess where the infection is located just broke open.⁶ You should visit your dentist to determine whether you have a dental infection.
6. Pus in your mouth or gums
You also might see pus when you’re brushing your teeth or if you look in your mouth. If the infection is deep inside a wisdom tooth, you likely won’t see anything. But if the infection is in the gum or near the surface of the tooth you may break or push on the abscess when you brush your teeth which will leave some pus on your toothbrush or visible inside your mouth. Anytime you see or taste pus you likely have an infection.⁷
7. Swollen or tender lymph nodes
The lymphatic system runs throughout the body and acts as a waste removal system, getting rid of cellular waste. When there is infection or inflammation in the body the lymph nodes can swell or become hard. If you suddenly have lumps under your jaw or in your neck that are hard to the touch, you may have inflamed lymph nodes, which could mean you have an infection.⁸
Tooth sensitivity by itself isn’t necessarily a sign of wisdom tooth infection. But if you have several of the symptoms listed here and you also find that your teeth are sensitive to hot and cold when they weren’t before that could be due to an infection. If you back teeth are sensitive to temperature or if you bite down and feel a sensitivity in your back teeth that could mean that you have an infection in a wisdom tooth.⁹ You should visit your dentist to determine whether you have a dental infection.
9. Swollen or painful gums
Sometimes the infection starts with the wisdom tooth but enters the gum around the tooth. An infected gum will likely be swollen, red, and very painful if you press on it or touch it with your finger or a toothbrush.¹⁰ It may also be swollen because there is an abscess filled with pus but that is for a dentist to determine.
10. Bleeding gums
Infected gums will likely bleed easily, usually if you just touch them. If you notice that your gums are bleeding after you eat food or brush your teeth, your gums could be infected.¹¹ Healthy gums should be pink and tough enough that there is no blood in your mouth or on your toothbrush after brushing. If you brush and there’s blood when you rinse or blood on your toothbrush there’s something likely causing inflammation in your gums.
Preventing a wisdom tooth infection
Because wisdom tooth infections can happen from the way that the wisdom teeth break through the gums and the position of the teeth, it’s difficult to prevent a wisdom tooth infection. But getting regular dental cleanings and routine care can help prevent infections. If you are having trouble flossing and brushing your wisdom teeth, talk to your dentist about having them removed. For some people that are prone to infection, it might be safer to remove them than to continue to risk infections when you can’t clean the area.
Getting preventive dental care
Preventive dental care can help you avoid emergency dental costs. It can also help save you a lot of physical pain. If you have put off your regular dental exams and cleanings because of the cost of dental care, dental insurance can help make dental care more affordable.
Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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