In This Guide
- Common signs and symptoms of wisdom tooth problems
- Symptoms of an infected tooth (pericoronitis)
- 8 pain remedies to try at home
- What are impacted wisdom teeth?
- When should they be removed?
- When is it possible to keep wisdom teeth?
- Can they cause an earache?
Some people will experience few, if any problems when their wisdom teeth erupt, while others may find the process very painful.
If the teeth at the very back of your mouth begin to hurt, it could mean your third molars (also known as “wisdom teeth”) are trying to come through. You might be able to see them in the mirror, or the gums in this area may look red and inflamed or could be sore to the touch.
For some people, this pain will be constant, while in others pain and discomfort may only occur when chewing food or when touching the area. Those that cannot come through correctly will need to be removed, either by a dentist or by an oral surgeon.
Everybody has four wisdom teeth or third molars and they are the last teeth to come through. You have two right at the very back of your upper jaw, and two at the back of your lower jaw.
They generally erupt during your late teens or early 20s – often into a mouth that is too small to accommodate them. Common problems include teeth that emerge crooked or sideways, and as they erupt they can cause overcrowding problems as they push against existing teeth.
Common Signs and Symptoms
If you have developed problems with your wisdom teeth then you might have some of the following signs and symptoms:
- Jaw pain or stiffness around the site of the wisdom tooth
- Pain or irritation due to the tooth coming through at an awkward angle, for example, if it comes in sideways through the gums it can rub on your cheeks or tongue
- Other teeth may become crowded
- There is an additional risk of tooth decay or gum disease if you cannot thoroughly clean them and other nearby teeth
- A cyst may form around the tooth roots, potentially damaging the surrounding bone
Those that cannot erupt properly or that only partially erupt can cause problems, potentially leading to an infection.
Symptoms of an Infected Wisdom Tooth
If a wisdom tooth can only partially erupt, there is a risk of a gum infection called pericoronitis. A partially erupted tooth will still be partly covered with gum tissue and may trap bacteria and food debris, resulting in infection or pericoronitis.
Pericoronitis will typically occur when there is insufficient room for a wisdom tooth to erupt properly and an emergency wisdom tooth extraction may be required. Symptoms of this infection include:
- Swelling around the affected tooth
- Having a persistently nasty taste due to pus leaking out from the gums
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- It might be difficult to comfortably open your mouth
Severe pericoronitis can lead to swelling around the cheeks and jaws, and this might cause pain that can radiate to the ear, resulting in an earache.
If you have a particularly bad ear infection or a sinus infection, this can cause pain that affects your teeth. This is the reason why it’s important to get a proper examination to determine the reason for any pain or discomfort.
8 Pain Relief Remedies You Can Try at Home
Home remedies for wisdom tooth pain can help provide some temporary relief. However, you will still need to seek a proper diagnosis and treatment from your dentist or from an oral surgeon.
It’s important not to overuse these remedies or to use them for long periods of time. Doing so could actually worsen the condition by masking the symptoms of a tooth infection until it spreads, by which time it could cause much more destruction or will even impact your general health.
For temporary relief of wisdom tooth pain, you can try the following home remedies:
- Clove oil contains eugenol, a natural numbing agent. Use a few drops of clove oil on a cotton ball and place this near to the painful area. You shouldn’t use this remedy for too long as it may cause burns or will irritate the tongue and surrounding tissues.
- A warm salt water rinse can be very soothing and cleansing. Just dissolve a small amount of salt in warm water and swirl it around your mouth for 30 seconds, a couple of times each day. This remedy can also be helpful after your teeth are extracted. It will help to rinse away debris and bacteria, reducing your risk of infection.
- Garlic is a well-known antibacterial agent that will help to slow down the growth of bacteria causing the infection. Use a little minced garlic and salt to make a paste and apply it to the affected area until you can get to see a dentist. One problem with this remedy is the strong smell of garlic.
- Raw onion is another effective but somewhat smelly and strongly flavored remedy. An onion cut in half and placed inside the cheek nearest to the tooth can help relieve the pain, especially if you bite down on it occasionally as this will release some onion juice.
- Teabags can be a useful way to treat a wisdom tooth. Herbal teas have various properties, as for example a cooled peppermint teabag can help to numb a painful tooth. Using a moistened ordinary teabag can help a blood clot to form after a wisdom tooth has been extracted. Gently bite down on the teabag as the pressure will help to slow the bleeding.
- Peppermint can provide pain relief. You can take the fresh leaves and pack them around the tooth causing you pain, or alternatively use a little peppermint extract on a cotton ball and apply directly to the tooth.
- An ice pack can help bring down any facial swelling, reducing inflammation and pain. This remedy can be useful before and after you receive dental treatment for a painful tooth.
- Swilling a shot of whiskey is an old-fashioned way to help relieve wisdom tooth pain. Just make sure you swish the whiskey around your mouth for at least one minute. It’s up to you whether you choose to spit or swallow!
Causes of Wisdom Tooth Problems
If your wisdom teeth are healthy and correctly aligned, they should not cause any problems. You may run into problems if your wisdom teeth have any of the following issues:
- Where wisdom teeth are only able to partially erupt due to a lack of space. This will leave them partially covered by a flap of gum tissue that can easily trap food and bacteria, potentially leading to a gum infection.
- Teeth that are facing the wrong direction or which are misaligned when they come through.
- Your jaw isn’t large enough to accommodate all of your teeth. In this case, they can become impacted underneath existing teeth.
- You have difficulty cleaning around your teeth because they are so far back in the mouth or are overcrowded.
- Sometimes a cyst may form that can damage the bone or tooth roots of your wisdom teeth and adjacent teeth.
Your dentist will soon be able to tell if you have a tooth coming through your gums or if it is unable to erupt properly. Dental x-rays will determine its exact position, allowing your dentist to see if your wisdom teeth are currently causing problems or are likely to be problematic in the future.
What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
Impacted wisdom teeth are unable to erupt properly as there is insufficient room in the jaw. As a result, these teeth may try to come up underneath existing teeth or will even try to come sideways through the gums.
Pain Caused by Impaction
Not surprisingly, impacted teeth can be painful and may cause damage to the adjacent teeth or will result in other dental problems. Initially, an impacted wisdom tooth may not cause any problems but they are harder to keep clean.
For this reason, they are more likely to become decayed, while the gum tissue around them can be tricky to keep clean. This could result in localized gum disease around the affected teeth.
If you do have an impacted tooth that is painful or which is causing other dental complications, it will generally need to be removed. It’s possible your dentist may recommend extracting this tooth, even if it isn’t causing any problems at the moment.
Its removal could prevent problems in the future, and this could be a wise decision because the extraction and healing process tends to be easier for younger people. As you get older, it’s more likely that your teeth will become fused into your jawbone.
An impacted wisdom tooth will not always cause symptoms, but if it does become infected or is affecting other teeth, you may experience some of these symptoms:
- Bleeding gums that are red, swollen and tender to touch
- The area around your jaw may become swollen
- You could develop a bad breath and a nasty taste in your mouth
- Tooth infection can make it difficult to fully and comfortably open your mouth
Impacted wisdom teeth may cause other problems in your mouth and these include:
- Tooth decay, as a partially impacted wisdom tooth is at a higher risk of developing caries. This is because partially erupted wisdom teeth are harder to keep clean. Food and bacteria can become trapped underneath the gum tissue party covering the tooth, resulting in decay.
- Pericoronitis, which is a condition similar to gum disease and it affects partially erupted teeth. If pericoronitis is present, the gums can become inflamed and painful.
- If a wisdom tooth is pushing against the adjacent tooth, it may damage it. Overcrowding increases the risk of infection in between these teeth as it may be impossible to keep the contact areas clean.
- Very occasionally a cyst or benign tumor may develop near the roots of a tooth. If this is the case, the cyst will have to be removed during a surgical procedure. A cyst or tumor can permanently damage the jawbone and other teeth nearby.
Another challenge with impacted teeth is their removal, as it is frequently more complicated and there is always the risk that extraction could permanently damage other teeth and your jawbone.
Having painful wisdom teeth isn’t necessarily a sign that they are impacted, but you should see a dentist so the problem can be properly investigated. The longer the pain persists, the more likely the risk of an infection that will require prompt treatment to help prevent it from worsening.
When Should Wisdom Teeth be Removed?
In the past, they were often removed automatically by dentists, but now many are choosing to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. It can be difficult to decide if your teeth need to be removed and some issues to consider include:
- Wisdom tooth removal is normally straightforward, but any oral surgery carries a slight risk
- Possible complications of surgery include dry socket, infection, numbness around the surgery site and bleeding
- It is easier to remove wisdom teeth during the late teens and early 20s, as the jawbone is less dense and tooth roots are not fully developed so recovery will most likely be quicker
- Most wisdom tooth problems occur during the late teens and early 20s, so if you are older than 30 there’s probably only a very small risk of your teeth causing problems later in life
- Medical insurance doesn’t always cover the removal procedure
- If you already have existing health conditions that could worsen with age, it may be worth having your teeth removed while you are still healthy
The most common reasons for removing wisdom teeth include:
- They are impacted and are trapped in the jawbone and causing pain
- They are coming in at the wrong angle and may be pressing against other teeth
- Insufficient room in the jawbone for another set of molars
- Being unable to keep them clean because they are so far back in the jaw, increasing the risk of gum disease or tooth decay
When They Need to be Removed Immediately
Sometimes they need to be removed immediately. This could be the case if they are causing you intense pain, or if there is substantial swelling and infection around the area. Their removal is particularly urgent if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, or develop a fever. You should see your dentist immediately for emergency treatment.
To find a dentist, please see our clinic locator map.
It’s possible they can prescribe antibiotics to prevent the infection from worsening and an antibacterial mouthwash and over-the-counter painkillers could provide a short-term solution before deciding on the most appropriate treatment. Larger dental schools sometimes offer emergency evaluations and tooth extractions for these situations.
Check out our guide on how much wisdom tooth removal costs.
When is it Okay to Keep Wisdom Teeth?
You can keep your teeth if your jawbone is large enough to accommodate them and where they can erupt fully without negatively impacting your existing teeth. Your dentist will still need to check your teeth are fully functional and are not affecting your bite. Regular dental examinations can monitor the ongoing health of your teeth.
Can Wisdom Teeth Cause Ear Pain?
It is extremely rare for wisdom teeth to cause ear pain, but it is possible. An impacted tooth can cause your jaw to ache and this pain may radiate outwards towards your ear.
Is not uncommon for people to complain they have a frequent earache as their wisdom teeth begin to erupt. However, jaw ache is a symptom of a jaw disorder called temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ. For this reason, it’s important to get a proper evaluation by your dentist.
Pain and any kind of discomfort affecting your teeth and gums should always be properly investigated by a dentist. Wisdom tooth pain relief remedies should only ever be a temporary measure.
What to Read Next
- Cost of Wisdom Tooth Removal
- Wisdom Teeth Removal Recovery Time & FAQ
- How to Find a Dentist You Can Trust