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Wisdom Teeth: Preventing and Treating Infection

Updated on August 2, 2015
Diagram by Bupa
Diagram by Bupa | Source

At some point in early adulthood, your wisdom teeth may start to grow through the gums at the back of your mouth. Wisdom teeth are third molars that mature later in life, but which we don't need anymore. In the past, humans' diet, such as roots, meats and nuts, lack of cutlery such as knives, and lack of healthcare meant that our molars (back teeth) would be in much worse condition by adulthood than they are now, and wisdom teeth would grow to replace them. Nowadays, it is rare for us to have lost that many teeth, if any at all, and our jaws are now not as wide as they once were. Yet our wisdom teeth still grow, even when they're not needed, and can crowd the back of the mouth. Sometimes they can grow out without any problems at all, and sometimes dental complications can occur. Here's to know when your wisdom teeth are growing, preventative measures you can take to stop infection, and suggested treatment, if you need it.

Checking your teeth

Wisdom teeth can erupt as early as age 17, and for some people, never erupt at all. Sometimes just one may come through, and for other people, all might come through at the same time.

If none of your wisdom teeth have erupted yet, you will be able to feel a small gum space behind your second molar where the wisdom tooth, or third molar, would grow. When one starts to come through, you will be able to feel it erupting from your gum. It's extremely important to take care of your teeth during this time, because this is where complications and infections can set in.

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Causes of Infection

As the wisdom teeth slowly grow, you may be able to feel gum tissue trying to grow back over the tooth, causing a flap. When you brush your teeth, gently push back the gum flap and brush your wisdom tooth thoroughly. If you don't do this, bits of food and bacteria can get caught between the tooth and the gum, and this is the easiest way for infection to set into your growing wisdom tooth and the surrounding skin. Infection is extremely painful and can lead to worse problems with your jaw and bones - in worst cases, perhaps even a cyst.

Push back the gum with your toothbrush and spend at least a minute on the wisdom tooth, ensuring that there's no trapped food and that the tooth and gum is well cleaned. Use a mouthwash such as Listerine afterwards for extra protection.

When you eat foods such as bread, granola, potatoes and cereal, it can be easy for food to get stuck in your teeth. Make sure you brush after every meal to avoid this happening.

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You will know if your tooth gets infected because you will:

  • Have increased pain and sensitivity around the tooth
  • A swollen cheek/jaw
  • Be unable to bite down properly because of the swelling

When bacteria causes infection in your wisdom tooth, it's time to see an emergency dentist. He will prescribe you with antibiotics, x-ray your tooth, and in some cases, suggest that he takes them out.

Because wisdom teeth aren't needed anymore, there are many complications that can arise from the third molar growing. For example, it can displace the tooth next to it - when the tooth grows, it pushes the teeth beside it, resulting in infection in your non-wisdom teeth too. In some cases, people's bottom teeth have been pushed so much that their entire bottom row of teeth have become uneven and jagged.

A wisdom tooth can become impacted, and affect the tooth next to it. This is a very common result of wisdom teeth, and a likely reason your dentist might want to remove it. Wisdom teeth can also grow entirely the wrong way, get stuck in the gums, and can be a threat to your jaw or bones.

An impacting wisdom tooth
An impacting wisdom tooth | Source

Complications after removal

Removing the wisdom teeth is sometimes the best idea, to avoid more problems in the future. However, problems can also arise from wisdom teeth removal, which is why sometimes your dentist might only give you antibiotics, and then suggest that you brush your teeth thoroughly to avoid further infection.

Problems can include:

  • Trismus: difficulty or pain in the jaw
  • Damage to existing dental work, such as crowns
  • Slow-healing gums
  • Dry socket: a painful inflammation that can occur where your wisdom tooth was if the protective blood clot layer is lost too soon (usually from not following dentist's instructions post-surgery, by smoking, etc)
  • Rare side effects such as an opening to the nasal cavity (if removing a tooth from the upper jaw), permanent numbness or a fractured jaw.

In this case, you and your dentist have to weigh up the positives and negatives of wisdom teeth extraction. Not removing it can cause severe problems in the future, and the older someone is when they have the surgery, the more problems that can arise.

Your tooth x-ray will show you and your dentist which way your wisdom teeth are growing, and whether it is likely that they'll need to be removed. Good luck.

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