Ways to relieve painful wisdom teeth
Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to break through the gums at the back of a person’s mouth. They can cause painful, aching gums. Home remedies and medications can help, but a person may need to have their wisdom teeth removed
There are four wisdom teeth in total, with one in each of the furthest corners of the top and bottom gums.
Pain in the wisdom teeth may resolve on its own, but in some cases, it will need either active home management or treatment in a hospital or dental surgery.
This article looks at options to relieve the pain as well as the causes.
Wisdom teeth can cause mild pain and discomfort as they emerge through the gums. They can also make it harder to floss, allow food to become trapped, or enable bacteria to enter the gums.
If the wisdom teeth come through in the wrong position or if there isn’t enough room for them to grow, it may also cause Trusted Source:
- pain, swelling, or stiffness in the jaw
- swollen, tender, or bleeding gums
- difficulty opening the mouth or chewing
- bad breath
Wisdom teeth normally push their way through the gums when a person is between the ages of 17-21. The sensation of a tooth pushing through the gums can be painful.
In addition, there is often no room for the wisdom teeth in a person’s mouth, as the adult teeth have already developed. This lack of space may cause wisdom teeth to come through at an angle or to get stuck and not come through fully.
This is called impacted wisdom teeth, and it leaves the gums vulnerable as the surface breaks, but the teeth do not fully come through. Food and bacteria can get trapped in the gums and lead to several issues, including:
- gum disease
Impacted wisdom teeth may cause pain, aches, and tenderness. Ultimately, removing the wisdom teeth can help resolve these problems.
In the meantime, there are several natural home remedies available.
1. Ice pack
Applying an ice pack to the jaw can help reduce Trusted Source inflammation, which in turn may relieve pain. Using ice can also have a numbing effect.
A person can try holding an ice pack with a tea towel around it against their jaw for up to 15 minutes.
The ice pack can be applied off and on with 15-minute breaks until the pain has subsided.
2. Saltwater rinse
Saltwater has natural disinfectant properties. A 2017 study Trusted Source showed that rinsing the mouth with salt water can help reduce bacteria.
Sometimes, a buildup of bacteria in the broken gums around wisdom teeth can be the cause of pain. As such, rinsing with salt water may help treat the infection and reduce the discomfort.
To make the saltwater rinse, a person can dissolve a few tablespoons of salt into a glass of freshly boiled water. When the water has cooled slightly, it can be swirled around the mouth for several minutes, then spat out.
A person may want to rinse their mouth with salt water two or three times a day or until the pain starts to reduce.
Research into the effectiveness of cloves in relieving wisdom tooth pain is positive. Some research suggests Trusted Source that there is some promise in regard to using cloves as a topical pain reliever due to their numbing effect.
To try this home remedy, a person can use a whole clove or clove oil. If using a whole clove they should:
- place the clove over the wisdom tooth that is causing pain
- hold it in place by closing their jaw, but without chewing
- leave it there until the pain reduces and then spit it out
To try this remedy using clove oil, a person can:
- put a few drops of clove oil on a ball of cotton wool
- put the cotton wool on the wisdom tooth that is causing pain
- hold the cotton wool in place until the pain reduces and then remove it
Both clove oil and whole cloves are available to purchase online.
A 2021 study Trusted Source found that onions have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. These advantages of onions mean they can help reduce swelling and fight bacterial infections.
To use onions as a home remedy, a person should:
- cut off a piece of onion
- chew the onion on the side of the mouth that has the pain
- keep chewing for a few minutes until the pain reduces and then spit out the onion
This process allows the juice from the onion to go into the gum so that it can reduce inflammation and bacteria.
A 2016 study found that tannins contained in tea bags have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This means tea bags may help reduce swelling and fight bacterial infections.
To use tea bags as a home remedy, a person should make a cup of tea and put the cup in the fridge with the teabag left in it. Once the tea is cold, the tea bag can be taken out and placed inside the mouth where the pain is located.
No milk, cream, or sugar should be added to the tea. Suitable plain tea bags are available to buy online.
Several medical treatments can also be used to help relieve pain caused by an impacted wisdom tooth, including some over-the-counter options.
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting thin needles into the body.
Some research suggests that acupuncture may be used to relieve dental pain, including pain caused by an impacted wisdom tooth.
In fact, according to one 2020 study, acupuncture was more effective at reducing the intensity of dental pain compared to a control group.
2. Numbing gel
A numbing dental gel may help reduce Trusted Source feeling in the gums and dull the pain. These gels are available over the counter or online and contain the active ingredient benzocaine.
Most dental gels can be applied directly to the affected gums throughout the day. However, it is important for a person to follow the instructions included in the product. Also, it is possible to be allergic to benzocaine.
Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter pain relief medication that helps reduce inflammation.
Taking the recommended dose on the packet may help relieve discomfort. It can also reduce inflammation of the gums associated with wisdom teeth development.
Ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as aspirin, may be effective pain management until a person can see a dentist for treatment.
A dentist or dental surgeon can remove a wisdom tooth in dental surgery. The doctor will inject a local anesthetic into the affected area to numb the pain of surgery. The practitioner will apply pressure to the tooth to loosen it from its socket.
The doctor makes small cuts around the tooth and may cut the wisdom tooth into smaller pieces before removing it. The procedure normally takes only a few minutes but can last up to 20 minutes and sometimes more.
The gum is normally only sore from the time until the anesthetic wears off until around three days later, but the pain sometimes lasts for up to two weeks.
Wisdom teeth are harder than other teeth, which makes them more likely to get cavities. When a person’s wisdom teeth are coming through, there are practical things they can do to make it less likely that their gums become infected. These actions include:
- Practicing good oral hygiene: Brushing teeth twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash can help reduce the bacteria in the mouth that cause infections.
- Drinking plenty of water: This helps to flush food and bacteria away from the teeth and gums.
- Avoid sugary foods: Sweet foods can get stuck inside the broken gums, encouraging bacteria to grow.
Here are a few common questions about wisdom tooth pain.
Why does wisdom tooth pain come and go?
As wisdom teeth emerge, it can put pressure on the gums and neighboring teeth, causing pain and discomfort that may come and go in cycles.
The flap of gum that covers the biting surface of the wisdom tooth can also become swollen and get trapped between the teeth, which can cause more pain.
Can wisdom tooth pain just go away (without treatment)?
In some cases, wisdom tooth pain may resolve on its own over time without any treatment. However, dental surgery may be recommended if the pain is severe or if the wisdom teeth cause any issues like infection, cysts, tooth decay, or damage to neighboring teeth.
Can the wisdom teeth cause pain in the jaw or gums?
Wisdom teeth can cause pain in the jaw or gums as they emerge. They can also increase the risk of infections by enabling bacteria to enter the gums, which can cause gum pain and swelling or stiffness in the jaw.
What to know about impacted wisdom teeth
Wisdom teeth, also known as the third molars, are the last teeth to grow in an adult’s complete set of teeth. Sometimes, these teeth do not erupt properly. When this happens, dentists refer to these as impacted wisdom teeth.
Adults typically have 32 teeth. Of these, wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last to appear. They appear at the end of the upper and lower gums, right in the back of the mouth.
Wisdom teeth typically develop in late adolescence or early adulthood, when a person is between 17 and 21 years. It does not usually cause problems when they appear, except when they become trapped under the gums or in the jaw.
What are impacted wisdom teeth?
The human mouth normally does not have room for 32 teeth, which includes the four wisdom teeth, so if wisdom teeth come through, they may cause crowding, infections, ear pain, and swelling.
Generally, people have four wisdom teeth. A person can have between none and four, and in rare cases, individuals may have more than four.
Having a small jaw or mouth with an abundance of teeth does not allow wisdom teeth to come through — they do not fully emerge into the mouth. This can also lead to crowding, infections, ear pain, and swelling.
Wisdom teeth can also grow in an atypical direction, coming out sideways, at an atypical angle, or only partially. Wisdom teeth that grow in a different position can cause pain and damage adjacent teeth. Even if no apparent damage occurs, the angle and position of wisdom teeth can make them susceptible to disease and bacteria buildup, which can lead to infection and decay.
In most cases, people do not need to remove their wisdom teeth as long as they practice good oral hygiene. However, they may need removing if a person or dentist notices changes in the mouth.
An impacted wisdom tooth can cause a range of problems. These include:
- gum or jaw pain
- red, swollen gums
- damage to adjacent teeth
- tooth decay
- gum disease
Additionally, impacted wisdom teeth can push against other teeth and cause crowding. A person may need orthodontic treatments to straighten crooked teeth.
The tooth may grow into a sac in the jawbone, which fills with fluid, creating a cyst. The cyst can damage the jawbone and nearby teeth and nerves.
Rarely, a noncancerous tumor may form, which means surgery to remove tissue and bone may be necessary.
The second molar, next to the wisdom tooth, becomes more prone to infection if something is pushing against it.
Because of its location, it can be more vulnerable to infections, which can lead to:
- bad breath
- a strange taste in the mouth,
- swollen gums, which may be redder than usual
- swollen jaw
- bleeding gums
More serious infections include cellulitis in the cheek, tongue, or throat. Another infection is gingivitis, the gum disease that results when plaque releases toxins that irritate the gums.
The below remedies could help relieve symptoms.
- Using pain relievers can help ease pain, but a person should swallow them and not leave them on the sore tooth.
- A mouthwash of warm water and a teaspoon of salt several times a day can reduce soreness and inflammation.
- An antibacterial mouthwash, such as chlorhexidine, can help with reducing infections.
If the pain continues, a person should seek medical attention.
A dentist may clean the teeth and prescribe antibiotics, but if the problem returns, the teeth may need removing.
Impacted wisdom teeth removal
The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) states that third molars that have links to causing disease should undergo removal. The AAOMS also recommends that practitioners should actively monitor wisdom teeth in case of complications.
Dentists will recommend taking out a wisdom tooth if it causes a person pain and discomfort or if it damages or could damage the adjacent teeth or jaw bone.
In the case of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, practitioners cannot accurately predict which wisdom teeth will cause issues. However, the angle where the tooth erupts and how it pushes against other teeth can offer clues.
Do all wisdom teeth need extracting?
Dentists often leave wisdom teeth alone if they are healthy, fully erupted, and in the appropriate positions and a person can easily clean them.
However, many dentists and oral surgeons in the United States suggest removing impacted wisdom teeth as a preventative measure against infection, such as gum disease and tooth decay.
An AAOMS review also suggests that having a wisdom tooth is more likely to cause a worsened periodontal status than not having one.
A dentist should also remove impacted wisdom teeth if they will hinder the other teeth from developing properly.
Previously, people underwent removal of their wisdom teeth, whether or not they were causing any problems. There is still an ongoing debate on whether to remove teeth that are not causing symptoms or to leave them alone.
However, in a 2021 study, only 28% of the third molars underwent removal, while 76.4% had justifiable reasons for their removal.
In a 2017 study, almost half of the participants receiving referrals for surgery showed no symptoms, while 36% received referrals for preventive purposes.
What to expect at the dentist
An oral surgeon will remove the wisdom tooth through surgery if necessary. The dentist will take an X-ray of the entire mouth to see how the roots lie and how the tooth is growing.
The removal may occur at a dentist’s surgery or as an outpatient at the hospital. How straightforward the operation is will depend on the position of the tooth or teeth that need removing.
Before the operation, a healthcare professional will first evaluate a person for allergies, existing medical conditions, and intolerances. They will also disinfect the operating area and the mouth.
Some may also ask the patient to take antibiotics before and after surgery to reduce the risk of infection.
The dentist will inject a local anesthetic to numb the tooth and the surrounding area. Then, they will make an incision in the gums to expose the tooth and bone. After this, they will use a dental drill to divide the tooth into sections to make it easier to remove.
It is important to relax and avoid alcohol and smoking for at least 24 hours to ensure there are no bleeding issues.
Wisdom teeth usually become impacted or trapped in the jaw bone or gums because of a lack of space in the mouth.
Another common reason is the teeth coming out at a different angle. A 2018 study shows that genetics may play a role in the position of upper wisdom teeth.
Impacted wisdom teeth can grow differently, depending on how the teeth grow:
- Mesioangular impaction: This means the wisdom tooth grows at an angle towards the front of the mouth.
- Vertical impaction: This refers to when the wisdom tooth does not break through the gum line.
- Distoangular impaction: This means the wisdom tooth grows at an angle towards the back of the mouth.
- Horizontal impaction: This means the wisdom tooth grows at a 90-degree angle and into the roots of the molar next to it.