Taking Antibiotics for Wisdom Teeth Infections – What You Need to Know

The wisdom teeth erupt from the gums anywhere between the ages of 17 and 25. In some individuals, they don’t show until many years after that. This is the reason for the teeth’s unique name, as they come out much later, during which an individual might have already reached adulthood.

Recent studies have shown, however, that human jaws lack the room for wisdom teeth. With smaller jaws, most people only have space for 28 teeth, giving wisdom teeth insufficient space for eruption.

Unfortunately, despite their general lack of importance and the smaller jaw seen in today’s population, wisdom teeth still commonly exist in most individuals. However, because of the crowding that occurs in smaller jaws, these sets of wisdom teeth either only partially erupt or remain completely concealed in the gums.

Unable to emerge properly, wisdom teeth can cause significant pain. As they apply pressure to the second molars, they can also push teeth towards the center, thus causing issues with alignment and aesthetics.

Inefficiently erupted wisdom teeth have also been known to cause infection which can be the reason for even more pain. This particular condition is what doctors have come to call pericoronitis – an infection of the soft tissues around the teeth, occurring as the wisdom teeth attempt to emerge but end up damaging the gums around it instead.

How do dentists diagnose pericoronitis? How do you treat it? And is there any way to prevent it? Find out here.

What Happens During Pericoronitis?

Pericoronitis is characterized by the inflammation of soft tissues surrounding inefficiently erupted wisdom teeth. This condition occurs as the teeth attempt to break through the gums, exposing the follicular sac from which the tooth originates.

As the tooth continues to push through the gums, the sac is left exposed, leaving spaces for bacteria to thrive and accumulate. Once bacteria has infiltrated the entire space around the tooth, it then spreads to neighboring tissues, causing a localized infection around the area of the emerging tooth.

Inside the oral cavity, there exists a normal bacterial flora. These small colonies are often suppressed by our immunity, so they’re effectively kept under control in times of good health. However, because of the injury to the soft tissues, they find a potential space for proliferation, and thus a full-blown infection takes its course.

The area becomes a hotbed for bacterial infection, as colonies in our oral cavities swarm to the affected region. Once the infection has spread, the individual might experience a host of different symptoms occurring at the site of the emerging tooth.

These include:

  • Painful, swollen gums around the area of the emerging wisdom tooth.
  • Foul odors coming from the oral cavity.
  • A bad taste in the mouth.
  • Accumulation and discharge of pus around the affected area.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Facial swelling
  • Inability to eat and/or speak properly.

Transient vs. Persistent Pericoronitis

There are certain factors that can affect the prognosis for pericoronitis. While most cases are permanently resolved after the first occurrence of infection, there are other individuals who might experience recurrent pericoronitis.

As the tooth emerges and breaks through the gums, it’s normal for individuals to develop transient pericoronitis. During these instances, the infection only persists as the wisdom passes the gum line. Once the tooth has fully emerged, it can be much easier to clean, thus eliminating the chances of future infection.

However, if a wisdom tooth fails to properly emerge and no longer progresses to full eruption – as is usually the case – it’s possible for an individual to experience persistent pericoronitis. This is because the gums are constantly subject to the tooth’s pressure. The incomplete eruption also makes it easy for debris and bacteria to collect around the tooth, as flaps in the gums provide space for such accumulation.

Most of the time, wisdom teeth that do not completely emerge are also a challenge to clean. With numerous crevices and spaces between the tooth and the gums, and along the gums themselves, that area of the oral cavity becomes particularly susceptible to poor hygiene.

Complications Secondary to Pericoronitis

Is it possible for pericoronitis to compound and become life-threatening? In theory, it is possible. Any infection that occurs inside the oral cavity can be much harder to resolve because the mouth is a breeding ground for bacterial proliferation. It is also because of this that wounds in the oral cavity take much longer to heal.

When pericoronitis isn’t properly addressed, or when the individual doesn’t respond to antibiotic treatment, it’s possible for an infection to spread to other parts of the body. As there are quite a number of blood vessels in the oral cavity, it’s not impossible for an infection to transfer to the blood.

Infected blood that circulates the system is known as septicemia – a life-threatening condition. When infectious material makes it way to the different organs of your system, your body can surrender and undergo septic shock.

Proper treatment of the initial infection should help prevent these complications. It’s also important to keep a close eye on the infection to detect whether or not it’s responding well to treatment. If not, urgently seeking the advice of a health professional is imperative in order to formulate a solution that will work for your case.

Treatment Methods

Immediate treatment for pericoronitis involves cleaning out the infected area to reduce the bacterial load. Dentists do this by flushing out the infectious waste with a medicated solution, and then removing any accumulated debris such as food that could have been lodged in small crevices around the erupting wisdom tooth.

If there is a viable point of access and your dentist assesses that you might be able to safely perform it at home, they may show you specific methods on how to clean the spaces between the erupting tooth and the gums. Do note that you should only attempt such intensive cleaning under the instruction of your dentist. Only perform the cleaning strategies they recommend.

After cleaning, your dentist will prescribe antibiotics for wisdom tooth infections which need to be religiously taken throughout the course of your recovery. It’s imperative that you take the medications as indicated, as improper use could lead to recurrent infections. This has also been known to be the reason for the development of drug-resistant bacteria. That is, if and when the infection recurs, the medication used for the initial occurrence may no longer take effect on the new strain of bacteria.

Other than the oral medications, dentists will also recommend that you use a medicated mouthwash to maintain low levels of bacterial flora in the oral cavity. The most commonly prescribed is chlorhexidine.

Extracting the Wisdom Tooth

Upon inspection, your dentist will be able to anticipate whether or not you will experience persistent pericoronitis. If they suspect that the tooth will no longer progress out of the gums, and they see that the soft tissues surrounding the tooth are particularly susceptible to bacteria build up, they will recommend that you have the wisdom tooth taken out completely.

Before the tooth can be removed however, it’s imperative to wait for the infection to die down. Operating during the height of bacterial infection could lead to further complications, and may even result to septicemia. If the individual takes the prescribed medication religiously and properly during the period indicated by the dentist, then it’s anticipated that the infection should be resolved within a week.

After extraction of the wisdom tooth, the dentist will order the patient to take another course of antibiotics. This is preventive in nature, killing off any potential threats before they develop into a full-blown infection, especially because the location of the surgical site is particularly prone to bacteria.

Post-op, the dentist will require you to follow strict oral hygiene practices and will prescribe a soft diet to ease the process of eating. A full recovery can be expected around 1 to 2 weeks after the surgery.

Can Pericoronitis Happen to Any Tooth?

In theory, pericoronitis can happen to any tooth. At some point, every emerging tooth with go through a ‘partially’ emerged phase as they pass the gum line. As they break through their follicular sac, they leave a space for bacteria to thrive and enter.

But the reason why pericoronitis happens only to wisdom teeth is because of the tooth’s specific location and late eruption. As the last tooth to emerge, a wisdom tooth will not have enough space to erupt properly through the gums. With that, it ends up forcing its way through the gums, failing to completely push beyond the gum line.

Without any more room to progress, the wisdom tooth stays in a partially erupted position. This leaves the follicle open and vulnerable to bacterial infection. One thing you’ll notice about pericoronitis is that it happens in individuals with relatively smaller jaws. Those with wider jawlines are less prone as they have more space to provide their erupting wisdom teeth.


Pericoronitis might seem like a simple infection on the surface, but it can lead to serious and life-threatening complications. Seeking prompt medical care and attention at the first signs of infection can help reduce the chances of compounding symptoms.

If your wisdom teeth are only just emerging – keep an eye on them! Or better yet, visit your dentist as soon as you can so you can get a better idea as to whether or not a case of pericoronitis is something you should anticipate.

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