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Understanding Wisdom Tooth Decay – Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are widely known for causing trouble in our mouths. But have you ever wondered why these specific teeth are more prone to decay and complications? In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the causes, treatment options, and prevention strategies for wisdom tooth decay. Let’s dive in and uncover the secrets surrounding these problematic teeth.


  • Wisdom teeth are susceptible to decay due to their late emergence and hard-to-reach location – at the back of the mouth.
  • Early indicators of wisdom tooth decay include sensitivity, irritation, pain in the gums or jaw, discolouration, and more.
  • Treatment approaches vary based on decay severity, ranging from fillings to extraction. Dental fillings can save mildly decayed wisdom teeth, while wisdom teeth surgery (surgical removal) is an option for severe cases.
  • Preventive measures like brushing, flossing, and regular check-ups can help prevent wisdom tooth decay issues.

What is Wisdom Tooth Decay?

Wisdom tooth decay is a dental condition characterised by the deterioration or damage of wisdom teeth due to bacteria, acids, and other harmful substances in the mouth. It is the same as regular tooth decay, where the tooth’s protective enamel is eroded by acids produced by bacteria, leading to cavities or holes in the surface of the tooth. 

Wisdom teeth’ location and positioning can make them more susceptible to decay as they are located at the back of your mouth (upper wisdom tooth and lower wisdom tooth).

Wisdom tooth decay can look like this:

Decayed tooth root canal treatment -

Causes – Why are Wisdom Teeth Prone to Decay?

Wisdom teeth are the last adult teeth to emerge, typically between the ages of 17 and 21. Their late arrival makes them susceptible to decay and other dental problems, including a wisdom tooth cavity.

They are prone to decay for several reasons. Here are the main causes:

Hard to Reach Location

Wisdom teeth are located at the back of the mouth, making them harder to reach and clean effectively. The difficulty in cleaning these teeth increases the likelihood of:

  • Plaque accumulation
  • Food particles and bacteria accumulation
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Tartar
  • Other dental issues

Inadequate cleaning can result in these problems.

Poor Oral Hygiene

One of the primary causes of wisdom tooth decay is poor oral hygiene. As previously mentioned, wisdom teeth can be challenging to clean properly due to their location at the back of the mouth. Inadequate oral hygiene practices, like infrequent brushing and flossing, can contribute to the decay of wisdom teeth. Neglecting proper oral care allows bacteria to thrive and increases the likelihood of cavities.

Late Emergence and Impacted Teeth

Illustration of Impacted Wisdom Tooth —

The late emergence of wisdom teeth can contribute to them becoming impacted, meaning they do not have enough room to erupt properly or may not always emerge fully or in the correct position. Impacted wisdom teeth can create pockets that are difficult to clean. This creates a conducive environment for bacteria, resulting in cavities and other dental issues. In such cases, extraction of the impacted wisdom teeth is recommended.


Wisdom teeth can also cause crowded teeth in the mouth. This can make it difficult to properly clean the surrounding teeth, leading to an increased risk of decay for both the wisdom teeth and neighbouring teeth.

Dietary Habits

Consuming a diet rich in sugary foods and drinks significantly contributes to tooth decay. Sugars and carbohydrates feed the harmful bacteria in the mouth, which then produce acids that erode tooth enamel. Wisdom teeth might be particularly vulnerable to this acid attack due to their location.

Dry Mouth

Another factor that can contribute to wisdom tooth decay is dry mouth, which is caused by a lack of saliva. Substances found in the saliva also help counter the acid produced by bacteria that helps prevent decay by washing away food particles and plaque from your teeth. 

Signs & Symptoms of Decayed Wisdom Tooth

Preparation Surgery Remove Wisdom Teeth Eights —

Identifying wisdom tooth decay early is crucial for seeking timely dental treatment. The initial indications of wisdom tooth decay vary from person to person, and these include the following:

🡆 Persistent, throbbing pain around the back of the mouth

🡆 Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods

🡆 Difficulty opening the mouth

🡆 Presence of white spots on teeth

🡆 Dark spots or visible holes on the wisdom tooth’s surface

🡆 Bad breath or unpleasant taste in the mouth that does not enhance with oral hygiene

🡆 Inflammation and swollen gums surrounding the wisdom tooth

🡆 Upper or lower jaw pain

It’s crucial to pay attention to these early signs, as addressing wisdom tooth decay in its initial stages can help prevent it from progressing and potentially more challenging to treat conditions.

Now, let’s get to know the effective treatments for decayed wisdom teeth. 

Treatment of Wisdom Tooth Decay

When it comes to treating wisdom tooth decay, there are different approaches based on the severity of the decay. It will vary depending on whether the tooth is mildly decayed or severely decayed. Let’s explore these professional treatment options in detail.

For wisdom teeth with mild decay, several treatment options include:

  • Dental Fillings
  • Fluoride Treatment

Dental Fillings

Patient mouth open with suction tube dentist examining tooth filling -

Dental Fillings are a treatment option for wisdom teeth with mild decay, where the decayed portion of tooth tissue is removed, and the area is filled with restorative materials. Fillings can fill the cavity and prevent further decay, potentially saving the wisdom tooth and avoiding the need for extraction.

It’s important to note that dental fillings are not always a suitable option for wisdom teeth. In cases where the tooth is severely decayed or the tooth’s position is problematic, wisdom teeth removal may be the preferred course of action, which will be discussed in the following sections.

Fluoride Treatment

woman having dental treatment at dentist's office.  -

Fluoride treatments may be recommended in some cases. Fluoride can aid in the remineralisation of tooth enamel and the prevention of early decay.

In cases of severe wisdom tooth decay, these treatments are required:

  • Root Canal Treatment
  • Wisdom Tooth Extraction

Root Canal Treatment

dentists treat patients' teeth. -

If the decay reaches the tooth’s pulp, where the nerves and blood vessels are located, a root canal might be needed. The infected pulp is removed, and the tooth is sealed and capped with a crown—dental crowns might be used if a significant portion of the tooth is decayed, as well as to protect the remaining structure of your tooth. A crown covers the entire visible portion of the tooth, restoring its shape, size, and strength.

Wisdom Tooth Extraction

dentist examines patient's tooth with black cavity on it using dental tools and mirror. -

In cases where the wisdom tooth is severely decayed or extensive, and your tooth cannot be salvaged, extraction is often the recommended option. Wisdom tooth removal is a surgical procedure performed by a dentist under local anaesthesia or nitrous oxide. The process involves removing the entire tooth from its socket.

The decision to have wisdom teeth removed prevents further complications and protects overall oral health. Extracting decayed wisdom teeth early on provides several benefits:

  • Easier and less complicated removal;
  • Reduce the risk of post-operative complications;
  • Promote a faster recovery process;
  • Prevent further damage to surrounding teeth;
  • Prevent infection and inflammation;
  • Prevent cysts and tumours;
  • Reduce chronic headaches; and
  • Help maintain good oral health.

Regardless of the severity of the decay, timely action is vital. If you suspect wisdom tooth decay, seek dental care promptly. Your dentist will evaluate the condition and recommend a suitable treatment based on the level of decay, tooth position, and overall oral health.

Complications of Untreated Wisdom Tooth Decay

Untreated wisdom tooth decay can lead to a range of serious complications. As decay progresses, it can result in gum disease and infections. Failing to seek prompt treatment for decayed wisdom teeth may require extensive dental procedures, such as wisdom tooth surgery, to correct the issues.

Swift action is essential to prevent these complications from causing further damage and to safeguard overall oral health.

Post-Extraction Recovery

The recovery process following wisdom tooth removal typically takes approximately two weeks, although most patients can return to their usual activities after three to four days. In cases of impacted teeth, the recovery process may be longer. To ensure a prompt recovery, it is crucial to adhere to the instructions given by your dentist.

Tips for Preventing Wisdom Tooth Decay

While treatment options for wisdom tooth decay are available, prevention may also be an appropriate course of action to minimise the risk of a wisdom tooth cavity and maintain a healthy smile. Here are some tips to consider:

🥄🦷Brush your teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste to keep them clean and reduce the risk of decay.

🧵Floss daily to remove plaque and any trapped food particles between your teeth, including wisdom teeth.

🧴Use antiseptic mouthwash or warm saltwater to kill bacteria and freshen your breath.

🥛Drink plenty of water to help flush food and bacteria away from your teeth and gum tissue.

🚬Avoid smoking, as this can contribute to tooth decay buildup.

🍰🥤Avoid sugary foods and drinks, which can get stuck inside the broken gums, encouraging bacteria to grow.

👨🏻‍⚕️Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings to ensure that any potential issues with your wisdom teeth are detected and addressed early on before they worsen and require more invasive treatments.

By following these tips, you can keep your wisdom teeth healthy and reduce the risk of wisdom tooth infection and decay.

Bottom Line

Wisdom tooth decay may be a common issue, but it does not have to be bound to happen. By understanding the unique challenges that make your wisdom teeth susceptible to decay, identifying the early signs of decay, and seeking prompt treatment, you can protect your oral health and preserve a winning smile! Keep in mind that treatment and prevention are the perfect tools, so don’t underestimate the power of these approaches to keep your wisdom teeth—and your entire mouth—healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if wisdom teeth decay?

If wisdom teeth decay, it can lead to the formation of cavities or holes on their surfaces. This decay can cause gum infection and disease, and tooth loss if left untreated. Taking timely action is essential for maintaining good oral health.

Should decayed wisdom teeth be removed?

Decayed wisdom teeth should be removed as soon as possible due to the risk of pain and swollen infection. They can also lead to the deterioration of nearby healthy teeth, resulting in toothaches and other complications.

Can a decay in a wisdom tooth be filled, or does it have to be pulled?

It will depend on the severity of the decay in your wisdom tooth and the state of your wisdom tooth condition. Your dentist may decide on the right treatment based on assessment and further evaluation.

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