Fact Checked

Wisdom Tooth Infection: Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatments

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

October 29, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

As a young adult, you probably remember the time that your wisdom teeth started growing in. It may have felt slightly uncomfortable or even distracting, however, after they were in, you likely stopped thinking about them.

What happens if this discomfort returns later in life? If you are feeling pain or swelling in or around your wisdom tooth, along with other symptoms like bad breath or fever, it is possible that you may have a wisdom tooth infection.

What are wisdom teeth?

Your wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the large teeth at the back of your mouth. They are usually referred to as your molars. While your other teeth grow in as a child, your wisdom teeth usually arrive in your late teens and early twenties.

Wisdom teeth are similar to all of your other teeth. They can also form a cavity, decay, or get stuck in or below your gumline. You can also have impacted wisdom teeth or partially erupted wisdom teeth. If you have pain in a wisdom tooth, it does not always mean that you have an infection.

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Pain in your wisdom teeth

If you have pain in your wisdom teeth or surrounding gums, it does not necessarily mean that you have an infected wisdom tooth. Not all pain indicates a wisdom tooth infection. The pain in your wisdom teeth may be a sign of:

  • gum issues like gingivitis or gum recession
  • poor dental habits
  • a cavity or cracked tooth
  • damaged tooth enamel
  • tooth grinding
  • worn dental fillings
  • sinus issues

If you are unsure as to what may be causing you pain in your wisdom teeth, make an appointment with your oral health professional.

Wisdom tooth infection

Because they are so far back in your mouth, your wisdom teeth may be more prone to infection since they are difficult to reach and clean. If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, you may also be more prone to infection.

When you are cleaning your wisdom teeth in the morning and at night, food debris and bacteria can stay trapped between your wisdom teeth because they are harder to reach.

Bacteria in your wisdom teeth

If bacteria get stuck in and around your wisdom teeth, they have the potential to cause infection. Sometimes this bacteria can spread and lead to a more serious health condition.

It is important to keep up with your dental hygiene and regular dental checkups in order to prevent future infections or other health problems related to your wisdom teeth.

Causes of infection 

If you suspect that you may have a wisdom tooth infection, visit your dentist to determine the cause. These issues may be the culprit:

Impacted wisdom teeth and partially impacted wisdom teeth

A partially erupted wisdom tooth does not grow correctly and can grow at a different angle or shape. An impacted wisdom tooth is trapped beneath the gum tissue and does not fully emerge and can also cause tooth crowding.

These types of wisdom teeth are more prone to decay or chronic infection. More bacteria in the area can penetrate the enamel and lead to infection or cavity.


Since your wisdom teeth are harder to clean, they're more at risk of building up bacteria. This bacteria, in turn, can cause a cavity. When you are brushing and flossing your teeth, make sure to reach all the way back and thoroughly clean your wisdom teeth.

Wisdom tooth extraction

Dentists remove wisdom teeth if they are damaged or if you have severe or recurrent infections. You will likely go through this procedure if you have emerging or partially erupted molars and issues surrounding that.

After an extraction, it is possible that an infection can occur at the same site. In addition to possible infection, extraction can also cause bleeding, temporary nerve damage, or blood clotting issues at the site.

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Treatment for wisdom tooth infection 

Before your dentist decides on the best course of treatment, they will need to figure out the cause and severity of the tooth infection. Once this is determined, your dental practitioner may suggest the following treatment:

  • cleaning and flossing wisdom teeth, gums, and surrounding areas
  • daily use of an antiseptic mouthwash
  • antibiotics to treat the infection

While the above will help to control the infection, your affected tooth will likely need further tooth dental work in order to prevent further infection and tissue damage. It is important to have your affected tooth repaired.

Antibiotics to treat infection  

Your dentist will prescribe antibiotics to treat your infection and prevent it from spreading further. Make sure you complete the full course of treatment. You will likely take these antibiotics for about a week before continuing treatment.

Wisdom tooth repair

After treating your infection, your dental practitioner may decide to either extract or repair your wisdom tooth. If you have a cavity, you will need a dental filling or a crown.

In addition, your dentist might file down the rough or bumpy edges on your tooth in order to remove edges that can trap bacteria or food particles.

Wisdom tooth removal

Your dentist may choose to partially or fully remove your widsom tooth if it is damaged beyond repair. The surgery can include the removal of the affected wisdom tooth, as well as other wisdom teeth. The removal of more than one tooth can help to prevent infections in the future.

If your dentist does not decide to do wisdom teeth removal, they might choose to partially remove it, instead.

Dental Surgery

If your dentist decides that extraction is the best option, you will have to go through removal surgery. This surgery will likely take 20 minutes or more and will require local or general anesthesia.

In order to protect your nerves and jawbone, your dentist might remove your tooth in pieces rather than all at once.

Home therapies 

While home remedies cannot fully treat a wisdom tooth infection, it can help to alleviate some pain and symptoms. If you are unable to see your dentist right away, it may be helpful to try some of these remedies at home first:

Homemade mouthwash

Using equal parts hydrogen peroxide and clean water, create your own antibacterial mouthwash. This mouthwash can help to remove bacteria around your wisdom teeth.

Over-the-counter pain medication

Check your local pharmacy for numbing gels or pain relieving medication. This can help to alleviate any pain that you may feel before seeing your dentist.

Rinse with salt water

Similar to the homemade mouthwash, this rinse can help to kill some of the bacteria in your mouth. Stir some salt into drinking water and use it to gargle a few times a day.

Use a cold compress

Take an ice pack and carefully place it on your cheek, outside of the painful area. This can help to reduce the swelling and inflammation that you may feel.

Try clove oil

Clove oil is an antibacterial oil that can help to reduce pain and swelling. Using a q-tip or cotton swab, gently dab the oil directly onto your wisdom tooth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my wisdom tooth infection go away?

Your wisdom tooth infection will likely not go away on its own. It is important to see your dentist to receive a diagnosis and treatment. You may need medication, repair, or wisdom tooth removal.

How do you know if your wisdom tooth is infected?

Common symptoms of a wisdom tooth infection can include:

  • pain in your jaw, side of your face, or in or around your tooth
  • swollen gums or lymph nodes
  • bad breath
  • difficulty opening your mouth or chewing
  • difficulty opening the mouth
  • fever
  • discharge from the extraction site if the tooth was removed

One or many of these symptoms can point to a wisdom tooth infection. Because bacteria spreads, the infected wisdom tooth can also affect the adjacent teeth. If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, you may be more susceptible to infection.

How do you get rid of an infected wisdom tooth?

See your dental practitioner for a diagnosis of your wisdom tooth infection. Your dentist will likely prescribe medication to relieve minor tooth pain, antibiotics, or suggest wisdom tooth removal or repair.

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Your wisdom teeth may cause issues as you age, especially if you have an impacted wisdom tooth or a partially erupted wisdom tooth.

Sometimes an infection can occur in your wisdom teeth. This can affect your nearby teeth as well as the infected tooth, and you may develop significant swelling and tooth or gum pain. Visit your dental practitioner to determine the best course of treatment and whether you need your wisdom tooth removed.

If you have a minor wisdom tooth infection, your dentist will likely prescribe pain medications and antibiotics to treat the tooth infection.