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What Is an Abscessed Wisdom Tooth?

An abscessed wisdom tooth is a third molar with an infection at the root, or within the gums or bone that hold the molar in place.


Any tooth can develop an abscess, but wisdom teeth are particularly susceptible. Taking preemptive action can help prevent this painful condition, but if it happens to you, it’s critical to see an oral surgeon ASAP for evaluation and treatment.

What Causes an Abscessed Wisdom Tooth?

Essentially, a bacterial infection is to blame for tooth abscess.

Your mouth is full of bacteria, which forms a sticky film of plaque on the teeth. If the plaque isn’t thoroughly cleaned away — a difficult task with the wisdom teeth — gum disease and tooth decay can set in. And when bacteria invade the tooth pulp, the resulting infection can create a dental abscess.

Poor oral hygiene increases the likelihood of developing dental abscess, this isn’t the only factor.

Consuming lots of sugary and starchy foods can encourage bacterial growth, which can lead to an abscess. An abscess may also form when a wisdom tooth becomes chipped or broken. Finally, patients with weakened immune systems also have an increased risk of tooth abscesses.

What Are the Symptoms of an Abscessed Wisdom Tooth?

Abscessed wisdom teeth are often painful. In most cases, an intense, throbbing pain comes on suddenly and gradually gets worse. The discomfort may be worse when lying down, and it may spread to the jaw, ear and neck.

Sometimes an abscessed tooth doesn’t cause any pain, but other symptoms can indicate the presence of an abscess. Facial swelling, looseness of the tooth and red, swollen gums are all typical of this dental condition.

An abscessed tooth may also cause sensitivity to hot or cold foods, bad breath and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. If the infection spreads, symptoms may include fever, swollen glands in the neck and a general malaise or feeling of illness.

How Are Abscessed Wisdom Teeth Treated?

A dental abscess is sometimes treated through incision and drainage. The oral surgeon makes a small cut in the gum to drain the infection. This is often a temporary measure, however, and the abscessed tooth may require further treatment.

In other cases, abscessed teeth may be treated with a root canal, a procedure to remove the bacteria and replace the infected pulp with a rubber compound. After the abscessed tooth is sealed, a crown or filling is placed, restoring function and appearance.

For most patients, however, wisdom tooth extraction is the recommended treatment.

If you haven’t had your third molars removed, this would be a great time to schedule a consultation with Dr. Maxfield or Dr. Partridge. If you think you might have a tooth abscess, schedule an appointment as soon as possible to help prevent the infection from spreading and damaging your other teeth.

The professional team at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah provides expert oral health care treatment to residents of the greater Salt Lake City area. To discuss treatment for an abscessed wisdom tooth, contact our Cottonwood Heights, South Jordan or Tooele office today.

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