All teeth can feel uncomfortable when they come through the gum, but wisdom teeth are especially prone to problems.
The last teeth to erupt, wisdom teeth normally appear at the back of the mouth between the ages of 17 and 25. Once useful for replacing other teeth lost to damage and decay, modern dental hygiene means that wisdom teeth are no longer necessary, and they can sometimes do more harm than good.
If a wisdom tooth is causing you pain, see a dentist as soon as possible. They can recommend pain relief or tell you if you could benefit from wisdom teeth removal to avoid worse problems.
What causes wisdom tooth pain?
Some discomfort from wisdom teeth is normal, but if you feel more severe or prolonged pain, or other symptoms of a problem such as infection, your wisdom tooth might be impacted.
This means that part or all of the tooth is stuck inside the gum. A wisdom tooth may be impacted if there isn't enough space in your jaw for extra teeth or if the surrounding teeth are misaligned or crowded.
An impacted wisdom tooth can cause pain if it pushes against your other teeth or causes swelling in your gum. An impacted wisdom tooth that's left untreated may trap food and bacteria, which can lead to other problems such as infection, cavities or gum disease.
Besides impaction, other causes of wisdom tooth pain can include
- a cyst or abscess around the tooth
- tooth decay or damage to the tooth
- gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis)
- jaw problems, such as TMJ disorder
When should I see a dentist?
Mild wisdom tooth pain may go away by itself, but you should see a dentist if the pain is troubling you or accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- swelling or other signs of infection
- blood in your saliva
- jaw pain
- bloody saliva
Your dentist will examine your mouth using an x-ray or other diagnostic imaging to determine whether your pain is caused by an impacted wisdom tooth or other problem. They can then recommend whether you need wisdom tooth removal, another treatment or pain relief while your wisdom tooth comes through.
How to manage wisdom tooth pain
If you don't need to have a wisdom tooth extracted, or you're waiting for your scheduled appointment, there are various ways you can try to reduce pain and discomfort in the meantime. Your dentist may recommend:
Good oral hygiene
Even if brushing and flossing is uncomfortable, it's important to keep your wisdom tooth and the surrounding area clean to help with healing and prevent infections.
Use a toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles and brush gently to minimise discomfort. Your dentist might also recommend using a mouthwash or having a professional clean.
If your wisdom tooth hurts when you bite, eating softer foods (such as mashed potatoes, boiled vegetables and smoothies) could help to relieve pressure and pain.
Avoid eating too many soft foods that are high in sugar, as these will increase your risk of tooth decay.
Pain relief medication
Over-the-counter painkillers (such as ibuprofen) can provide quick relief from wisdom tooth pain, as long as these are used on a temporary basis and following the recommended dose. Ibuprofen also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help to reduce swelling.
Talk to your doctor if you're not sure what painkillers are suitable for you.
Warm salt water rinse
An effective home remedy for many people suffering with wisdom tooth pain is warm salt water. This helps to kill bacteria, which may also reduce gum disease and swelling.
Add one teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water and hold the liquid in your mouth for two minutes before spitting it out, taking care to avoid swallowing. This should be done up to four times a day until the pain subsides.
Heat or cold pack
Applying heat or cold to the part of your mouth that hurts may help to relieve pain and swelling. A cold compress or ice pack can numb your mouth temporarily, while heat can increase blood flow to relieve tension.
Heat or cold should be applied for a few minutes, a few times each day, until the pain or swelling goes away.
The effectiveness of natural remedies to help reduce tooth pain, inflammation and bacteria is debated, but common suggestions include:
- aloe vera
- clove oil
- lavender oil
- oregano oil
- tea tree oil
If an impacted wisdom tooth has led to an infection, your dentist or doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics. These should be taken following their guidance and should help to clear the infection and reduce associated pain and swelling.
Wisdom teeth removal
If any of your wisdom teeth are impacted or painful, your dentist may recommend an extraction. As well as relieving the pain, this will also prevent infections and other problems from developing in the future.
Dentists sometimes recommend early wisdom tooth removal as a preventive measure for younger patients who may be at risk of problems, such as those with a small jaw or crowded teeth.
Your dentist will explain what wisdom tooth extraction involves so you know what to expect and can decide whether the treatment is right for you.
How are wisdom teeth removed?
Removing wisdom teeth is sometimes as simple as a general extraction, but it can be more complex if the tooth is impacted in your gum. This depends on the individual, but wisdom teeth in the upper jaw are generally easier to remove than the lower wisdom teeth.
Your dentist will examine your teeth using an x-ray to plan your treatment. Local anaesthesia will be used to numb your mouth so you won't feel any pain during the extraction. If you have a more complex case, or you're having multiple wisdom teeth removed, the procedure may need to be performed under general anaesthesia in a hospital.
- If the tooth has fully or partly emerged from the gum, your dentist will widen the socket and gently loosen the tooth using forceps until it can be pulled.
- If the tooth is more deeply impacted, your dentist will need to make an incision in the gum to access the tooth. They may also need to remove bone tissue from the jaw, and the tooth may need to extracted in pieces if it's difficult to remove. The gum will then be closed with sutures, which may dissolve by themselves or need to be extracted during a future appointment.
Wisdom tooth removal can take between 45 minutes and 90 minutes, depending on the method used.
Does wisdom tooth removal hurt?
If your wisdom tooth is hurting, you may be worried that having it removed will be worse. But while your mouth could feel sore for a few days afterwards, this can be relieved using painkillers or other remedies, and then you should be free of the pain and other complications of an impacted tooth.
Your dentist will make sure you don't feel pain during the extraction itself by using local anaesthetic to numb pain responses in the part of your mouth being treated. For more complex procedures, or removing multiple wisdom teeth at once, general anaesthesia may be needed.
If you have anxiety about dental procedures, or a resistance to anaesthesia, your dentist can discuss other sedation options to provide additional pain relief and help you to relax.
Recovery from wisdom tooth extraction
Your mouth may feel sore or you may experience swelling or bleeding for up to several days after a wisdom tooth extraction. Your dentist will discuss pain relief advice and other ways to help with the healing process and lower the risk of complications. These may include:
- Eating soft foods for the first few days
- Not chewing with the part of the mouth treated
- Not drinking alcohol or drinking through a straw
- Not smoking for at least 48 hours
- Maintaining good oral hygiene
- Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water (not within 24 hours of surgery)
If you had a more complex wisdom tooth procedure, your dentist may schedule a follow-up visit to check your progress or remove sutures, if needed.
Is wisdom tooth removal safe?
Wisdom tooth removal is a common and safe procedure when performed by a qualified and experienced dentist, but they will still make sure you are aware of the possible risks.
These can include infection of the treated site or a dry socket, which can happen if the blood clot over the tooth socket is broken. This exposes the socket to air and can trap food and bacteria inside, which may cause pain or bad breath.
If you feel severe pain or have other unexpected symptoms after your wisdom tooth procedure, make an appointment with an emergency dentist.
Impacted wisdom teeth Gold Coast
We are conveniently located in Robina Town Shopping Centre and we welcome patients from all nearby suburbs, including Burleigh Heads, Mudgeeraba, Miami, Varsity Lakes, Burleigh Waters, Merrimac, Mermaid Waters, Worongary and Clear Island Waters.
Better Health Channel. Wisdom teeth [Online] 2019 [Accessed October 2022] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/wisdom-teeth
Healthline. 19 Remedies for Wisdom Teeth Pain Relief [Online] 2021 [Accessed October 2022] Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/wisdom-teeth-pain-relief