How Do Impacted Third Molars Cause Infection?

As we discussed in our last post, the threat of impacted third molars leading to overcrowding of the front teeth is low and therefore not a good reason – on its own – to justify an extraction. However, the possibility of infection of the area around the wisdom tooth, a condition known as pericoronitis, is very real and threatens the health of your surrounding teeth and even other parts of the body.

How Does Pericoronitis Happen?

This condition most often occurs on wisdom teeth with a partial or complete soft tissue impaction, meaning that the molar never fully erupted from the gums and is covered by a flap of gingival tissue. Food particles and bacteria-laden plaque become trapped between the flap and the molar. The food particles break down and provide a ready food source for the bacterial colonies. Inflammation and infected of the gum flap occur, leading to a number of characteristic symptoms, including:

  • Gum tissue at the back of the mouth feels swollen or painful.
  • You accidentally bite down on the swollen gum tissue.
  • Bad breath or bad taste in your mouth.

Often, patients describe symptoms going away after a week or so, only to return weeks or months later. Just because the symptoms go a way for a while doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should schedule an emergency appointment as soon as possible.

Untreated infection of the gum flap can infect areas of the face and neck and lead to tooth decay of the wisdom tooth and neighboring teeth and even, in rare cases, compromised airways.

Is Wisdom Tooth Infection Preventable?

Unfortunately, you have no control over how your wisdom teeth will grow in. If you have partial or complete soft tissue impactions in any of your third molars, you run the risk of pericoronitis. Maintaining a careful oral hygiene regimen of brushing after meals, flossing nightly, and rinsing thoroughly with an antimicrobial mouthwash can keep the flap as clean as possible, but the area will remain at a higher risk of infection. Extracting impacted wisdom teeth is the best way to make sure the infection does not come back.

About Shawn Hofkes, DDS

With advanced training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and certification in oral and IV sedation, Shawn Hofkes, DDS is qualified to provide safe wisdom teeth extractions from our state-of-the-art dentist office in Cerritos, CA. To schedule your appointment or consultation with Dr. Hofkes, contact us today. We proudly serve patients of all ages from Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, Buena Park, and all surrounding communities.