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Is my wisdom tooth infected?

In this post, we’ll explain what causes wisdom tooth infection (also called pericoronitis) and what symptoms to look out for if you believe one or more of your wisdom teeth are infected.

The most common cause

The most common cause of infection with your third molars is impaction of the wisdom tooth when the tooth has partially erupted from the gum tissue. When a tooth is partially erupted but impacted, part of the tooth is visible while the rest of the crown is covered with a thin flap of gum tissue. This tissue has the tendency to trap food particles or bacteria.

Signs and symptoms of wisdom tooth infection

Moderate to strong discomfort at the site of the wisdom tooth is the most common sign that your tooth has become infected or impacted. Infection can also cause the soft tissues to turn red, swell and become tender. A more advanced infection will leave a bad taste in your mouth when you chew or cause bad breath.

Treatment options

In most cases, an infected wisdom tooth signals the need to extract the tooth as the infection was likely caused by not having enough room in your mouth for an additional row of teeth. Following oral surgery, antibiotics will be prescribed to clear up any remaining infection and prevent further infection at the surgical site.

If your infection was not caused by impaction, and your x-rays show that you have room for third molars, you may be able to take a more conservative approach and try to heal the infection without surgery. A combination of over-the-counter medication, antibiotics and saltwater rinses will be prescribed. If the infection worsens, however, extraction may still be appropriate.

What if you suspect your wisdom tooth is infected?

An infected tooth is a potentially serious condition. If you suspect any tooth in your mouth is infected, schedule an appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon right away.

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