Wisdom Tooth Cavities: Why You Should Never Ignore That Nagging Toothache

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last set of molars to erupt in the back of the mouth. They typically emerge between the ages of 17 and 25. Wisdom teeth are prone to problems such as cavities and impaction. A cavity in a wisdom tooth can be painful and lead to more serious dental issues if left untreated.

What Causes Cavities in Wisdom Teeth?

Cavities develop when plaque, a sticky film containing bacteria, builds up on the teeth. The bacteria in plaque feed on sugars and starches in the food we eat. As they digest these carbohydrates, the bacteria produce acids that attack the enamel of the teeth.

Over time, the acids can wears away the enamel and create holes or cavities in the teeth. Cavities typically form in the grooves, pits and fissures of teeth. The anatomy of wisdom teeth makes them prone to decay. The grooves and cracks make it easy for plaque and food to become trapped, especially in the back molars.

Common Problems with Wisdom TeethSymptomsTreatment Options
CrowdingDiscomfort, misalignment of teethOrthodontic treatment, extraction
PainJaw, face, and ear pain, headachesPain management, extraction
Damage to other teethTooth decay, gum disease, cysts, tumorsRestorative procedures, extraction

Symptoms of a Cavity in a Wisdom Tooth

A cavity in a wisdom tooth may not cause any symptoms initially. As the decay worsens, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Toothache or pain when chewing
  • Sensitivity to hot, cold or sugary foods
  • Visible holes or pits in the tooth
  • Brown, black or white staining on the tooth

The pain may be mild at first but increase over time as the cavity grows larger and deeper. Swelling, bad breath and a bad taste in the mouth can also occur with an infected wisdom tooth cavity.

Complications of Wisdom Tooth Cavities

Left untreated, cavities allow bacteria to penetrate deeper into the center of the tooth, infecting the pulp. This can lead to more serious dental problems:

  • Tooth abscess - a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection of the tooth's root canal. Abscesses are very painful.
  • Cysts - a sac filled with fluid, air or other material that forms in the jawbone around the infected wisdom tooth. Cysts can damage surrounding teeth and bone.
  • Root canal - if the pulp becomes infected, root canal treatment will be required to save the tooth. This involves removing the infected pulp and sealing the tooth.
  • Tooth loss - severely decayed wisdom teeth may need to be extracted if the damage is too severe.

Risk Factors for Wisdom Tooth Cavities

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing cavities in the wisdom teeth:

  • Poor oral hygiene - inadequate brushing and flossing leaves plaque buildup.
  • Food stuck in teeth - impacted or partially erupted wisdom teeth are hard to clean.
  • Dry mouth - low saliva reduces the mouth's ability to neutralize acids and wash away food particles.
  • High sugar/carb diet - frequent snacking on sugary or starchy foods feeds the plaque bacteria.
  • Smoking/tobacco use - reduces saliva flow and contributes to plaque buildup.

Preventing Wisdom Tooth Cavities

Good oral care is essential to avoid cavities in the wisdom teeth. Recommended preventive measures include:

  • Brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Flossing daily to clean between teeth
  • Using an antiseptic mouthwash to kill bacteria
  • Seeing a dentist regularly for exams and cleanings
  • Eating a healthy, low-sugar diet with limited snacking
  • Avoiding tobacco products

Keeping up with routine dental cleanings and treating tooth decay early is key to preventing painful cavities in the wisdom teeth. For partially erupted wisdom teeth, carefully clean the exposed areas and see a dentist promptly if you notice signs of decay. Your dentist may recommend extracting wisdom teeth if they are too difficult to clean.

Treating Cavities in Wisdom Teeth

If decay is detected early, wisdom tooth cavities can often be treated with a filling to restore the tooth. Different types of fillings are available, such as:

Filling MaterialDetails
Composite resinTooth-colored material made of plastic and glass particles. Bonds to the tooth for a tight seal.
Glass ionomerTranslucent material made of acrylic and glass. Releases fluoride to help prevent more decay.
Silver amalgamA metal alloy mixture including silver, tin, copper. Very durable but unsightly dark color.

For more advanced decay, other treatments options include dental crowns, root canals, or wisdom tooth extraction. Antibiotics may be prescribed if there is infection or abscess present. Talk to your dentist about the best treatment approach for your individual situation.

Wisdom Tooth Cavity Home Remedies

There are no effective home remedies for treating an existing cavity. However, you can temporarily relieve pain and swelling at home until you can see a dentist:

  • Salt water rinse - Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt in a cup of warm water and swish around the mouth. Helps keep the area clean.
  • Clove oil - Apply a small amount of clove oil to a cotton ball and gently press against the sore wisdom tooth. Clove oil has numbing and antibacterial properties.
  • Cold compress - Place an ice pack or cold compress against the outside of the cheek near the wisdom tooth. Helps relieve swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain medicine - Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can temporarily alleviate wisdom tooth cavity pain.
  • Soft foods - Stick to soft, lukewarm foods like soups, smoothies and mashed potatoes to avoid aggravating the infected tooth.

See a dentist as soon as possible for an exam and proper treatment of a wisdom tooth cavity. Leaving decay untreated allows it to spread and often requires more complex treatment down the road. With prompt care, your dentist can stop the cavity and help prevent unnecessary pain or tooth loss.


What are wisdom teeth and how do they develop cavities?

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last teeth to erupt in the mouth, usually between ages 17 and 21. They can experience cavities and decay just like other teeth. Wisdom teeth often erupt improperly or not at all, causing pain, crowding, and damage to other teeth.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cavity in a wisdom tooth?

Symptoms of a wisdom tooth cavity may not be immediately noticeable but can worsen over time. Common signs include spontaneous toothaches, sharp or mild pain when consuming hot or cold substances, stained tooth surfaces, tooth sensitivity, visible pits or holes on the affected tooth, and discomfort when biting down.

What are the treatment options for a cavity in a wisdom tooth?

The severity of the wisdom tooth cavity will determine the appropriate treatment option. For early-stage cavities, fluoride treatments may be sufficient to restore enamel and prevent further decay. Dental fillings, such as porcelain or composite resin, can be used to remove decay and restore the tooth's structure. In cases of extensive decay or damage, dental crowns may be necessary. Root canals can be performed to save severely decayed wisdom teeth. In severe cases, wisdom tooth extraction may be the best solution.

How can I prevent cavities in my wisdom teeth?

Taking preventive measures can decrease the risk of wisdom tooth cavities and the need for extraction. Brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste after meals, using fluoride rinse, and drinking tap water containing fluoride can help protect against cavities. Regular dental visits, dental sealants, and a healthy diet low in sugars and starches are also important for preventing cavities in wisdom teeth.

How often should I have my wisdom teeth evaluated by a dentist?

Regular dental check-ups, typically recommended twice a year, are crucial for maintaining oral health and detecting wisdom tooth problems early. Dentists can assess the condition and position of wisdom teeth through a thorough examination and dental x-rays. If potential issues are identified, such as impaction or high risk of cavities, dentists can provide appropriate treatment options, including extraction if necessary.

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