What Causes Wisdom Teeth Swelling?

Wisdom teeth swelling can be a sign of infection, tooth decay, poor gum health, or it could be the result of having a wisdom tooth pulled. When dealing with tooth symptoms like swelling, pain, and sensitivity, it’s important to take action right away to avoid serious consequences. Take a look at the following conditions that are associated with wisdom teeth swelling and learn how these conditions should be treated to prevent long-term damage.


Tooth abscesses are one of the leading causes of swelling in the gums and can even cause the side of one’s face or jaw to become obviously swollen. An abscess is a pocket or sac of tissue in the gums, usually near or against a tooth, that become filled with pus. This pocked develops as the result of tooth decay or breakage, or even wounds in the gums, that allow bacteria into the gums where it becomes trapped. The bacteria begin to thrive and eventually an abscess forms. Where a wisdom tooth is concerned, the abscess could be the result of failing to properly clean the tooth, in which case bacteria will eventually erode the tooth’s enamel and dentin, and then find its way down to the pup and root of the tooth where infection will spread. Wisdom teeth that have only partially erupted from the gums are much more likely to become infected because the flap of skin caused by the partial eruption makes for the perfect environment for bacteria to hide out and thrive. This flap of skin also makes it much easier to clean the tooth properly which increases the chances of tooth decay.

An abscess can sometimes be seen on the side of the gums as a bubble-like growth, but this is not always the case. In reality, the abscess could be very deep inside the gums or even in the jaw bone. In most cases, the major symptoms of an abscess are extreme sensitivity, pain, throbbing, sharp/stabbing pains, swelling, and redness of the gums near the affected tooth. When it comes to treating an abscess, which involves a round of antibiotics and physically puncturing/draining the abscess sac, most doctors will recommend that the tooth be saved, if possible. This involves a procedure called a root canal, in which the tooth is drilled into, the pulp and roots are removed, the abscess is drained, and then the inside of the tooth is filled.

However, when the infection occurs in a wisdom tooth, most dentists will not recommend a root canal because wisdom teeth are largely unnecessary and are most likely to cause problems later in life, such as tooth crowding, excessive decay, and further increasing the risk of infection. Therefore the most recommended treatment for an infection wisdom tooth is to simply pull the tooth.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is another possible cause behind wisdom teeth swelling. Gum disease is most often caused by neglecting to properly clean the teeth, gums, and mouth. When food particles build up on the teeth, they also trap bacteria and form a thick, sticky substance called plaque. Over time the plaque hardens into what we call tartar. Tartar can easily become an abrasive and irritating substance for the gums because the heaviest tartar buildup usually occurs at the point on a tooth where the gums stop.

Inflammation is the first clue that things are not right with one’s gums and is very likely to occur around the wisdom teeth where excessive tartar is likely to build up simply because this area is so hard to reach with a standard tooth brush. The symptoms associated with gum disease include a change in the color of the gums (usually a dark red or purple-ish color), swelling, tightness, shiny texture, sores in the mouth, persistent bad breath, and usually some degree of discomfort such as tenderness when chewing or brushing and bleeding. Over a long period of time, one might even notice that their gums are receding which causes the teeth to look longer.

Wisdom Tooth Removal

Recent tooth removal is another common cause of wisdom teeth swelling. There are many reasons why people opt to have their wisdom teeth removed—from overcrowding, to decay, to abnormal tooth growth and development. Having the teeth removed can be a simple, straightforward process or it could involve the surgical removal of the tooth, especially if it is only partially erupted or impacted into a neighboring tooth.

Once a wisdom tooth is removed, it is normal to expect a bit of swelling due to the stress in which the tissues have recently undergone. An ice pack can be applied to one’s cheek to reduce facial swelling. Overall, the swelling should improve a few days after the procedure. It is important to relax the jaw and to avoid eating hard or crunchy foods that may cause additional stress on the jaw. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen is an excellent way to cut down on the pain as well as reduce the signs of inflammation, such as welling, tightness, tenderness, and irritation.

If swelling continues to worsen or does not get better after a few days, it may be possible that the extraction site is not healing as it should, or it may even be a sign that an infection is brewing. Other signs of infection include fever, excessive redness, and pus leakage from the extraction site.