Wisdom teeth usually appear between the ages of 17 and 25, sometimes even later in life. Called third molars, they are the last or most posterior teeth in each of the four quadrants of your mouth, on each side of the upper and lower jaw.(1)
Wisdom teeth are so named as they come through at a mature age. As these final molars arrive quite late on the scene, there’s usually no room left in the mouth for them to come through. As a result, they tend to surface in a misaligned position or only partially through the gum.
When the teeth grow sideways, they position themselves at an angle that is directed towards or away from the second molars. Sometimes, the teeth may even be angled inward or outward. As these poorly aligned wisdom teeth push through the gums, they can crowd or damage the adjoining teeth, jawbone, or nerves.
In a lot of cases, the wisdom teeth are unable to emerge all the way through the gum line. In other words, the molars remain partially embedded within the gums as there isn’t enough space for them to come out. When a wisdom tooth fails to grow in proper alignment or break through completely, it remains trapped in place, between the gum tissue and jawbone.
This results in the impaction of the tooth that can lead to pain, overcrowding of the existing teeth, its impaction into the neighboring teeth or the gums, infection, and other dental problems. The extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth is generally recommended to stave off any severe complications.
According to anthropologists, wisdom teeth or the third set of molars developed as an evolutionary response to our ancestor’s early diet that consisted of rough foods, such as leaves, roots, nuts, meats sticks, and reed plants.
Chewing such a coarse fare resulted in excessive wear of the teeth, causing them to fall out eventually. The wisdom teeth would then come in handy as replacements for the lost molars.
However, wisdom teeth serve no real function or purpose anymore. Due to the use of culinary tools such as forks, spoons, and knives, the advent of softer diets, and the introduction of new and improved oral hygiene techniques, these replacement teeth have come to be classified as vestigial organs that are largely without any use.
That said, wisdom teeth continue to grow in, vying for the same place as other functional teeth in our mouth.
Causes of Wisdom Tooth Pain
As wisdom teeth are the last to come in, they may not have enough room in the mouth to grow properly.
Wisdom teeth that grow in a proper alignment usually don’t cause any problems. The discomfort associated with wisdom tooth eruption occurs if:
- The tooth breaks through your gums only partially because of a lack of space. This can cause a flap of gum tissue to develop over the part of the tooth that has surfaced. Food particles tend to get trapped under the overlying gingival tissue, thereby providing a breeding ground for cavity-causing bacteria. The partial emergence of the tooth gives free access to the bacteria into the open gum tissue and paves the way for a potential oral infection known as pericoronitis.(1)
- The tooth comes out crooked or facing the wrong direction. Because the wisdom tooth has to push against the adjoining teeth and the jawbone to break through the gumline, it generally fails to grow straight. Instead, it comes out angled towards or away from the neighboring molars or grows inwards or outwards.
- Your jaw is not large enough to accommodate these late bloomers. The human mouth is designed to hold as many as 28 teeth, but the wisdom teeth arrive only after this capacity has already been filled. As a result, they get blocked by the existing teeth or jawbone and come out either misaligned or only partway. This overcrowding causes your wisdom tooth to get stuck or impacted in your jaw, which puts a strain on the nearby gums, teeth, and bone.
- The wisdom tooth is so awkwardly positioned that you find it difficult to clean around them. Wisdom teeth are located in the hard-to-reach recesses of the mouth, making it difficult to brush or floss between them and the adjoining molars.
- The wisdom tooth remains trapped between the gum and the jawbone and causes cyst formation. These pockets of fluid develop around the impacted tooth and can cause permanent damage to your jaw bone and your other teeth.
How to Tell If Your Wisdom Tooth Is Surfacing?
The signs and symptoms of wisdom teeth growing include the following.
1. Gum swelling
The eruption of the wisdom tooth encroaches upon the space of the already established set of teeth and can cause the overlying gum in the back of the mouth or on the side of the jaw to swell.
2. Mild pain in the area
As the wisdom teeth have to compete with the adjoining molars for space, they usually push against them when emerging out of the overcrowded gumline. This may cause the adjacent teeth to move from their place, triggering a dull pain and stiffness in the jaw, which may be felt in nearby teeth or the area on that side and may make it difficult to open and close your mouth. The pain associated with a wisdom tooth tends to increase if left untreated. It may persist for several days and then disappear for weeks or months before returning.
3. A feeling of pressure
The emergence of a wisdom tooth can be pre-empted by the sudden onset of sinus pain, congestion, and pressure, especially in the upper jaw area. This is because the growing tooth and its roots push against the sinuses located right above and behind. The pressure on the sinuses, in turn, gives rise to headaches and sinus pain.
Along with pain and swelling, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Bad breath
- Difficulty biting and chewing food due to the misalignment of teeth
- Pain in the adjacent teeth
Wisdom tooth pain can occur suddenly without warning or develop gradually. It can be unbearable and even hamper your day-to-day activities.
Medical Treatment for Wisdom Tooth
Wisdom Tooth Extraction
The standard treatment for an impacted wisdom tooth is to remove it surgically, as it can lead to a number of discomforting symptoms and potentially severe complications.
However, doctors usually recommend the following strategies to manage and alleviate the pain and swelling associated with this condition in the days leading up to the surgery.
- Use cold therapy for pain relief. Applying an ice pack on your cheek for 15 to 20 minutes at a time will help numb the area and reduce the discomfort.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup [8 fl oz (240 mL)] of warm water. Use this solution to rinse your mouth gently every 2 to 3 hours.
- You can also try over-the-counter analgesics such as ibuprofen or naproxen to manage the pain. Aspirin is not to be administered to anyone younger than 20 years old. Whatever medicine you choose, be sure to read and follow the instructions that come with it to avoid any undue reactions.
The Importance of Post-Surgical Care
Once your wisdom tooth has been extracted, your oral health professional will outline a few self-care guidelines to help the site heal better. The generally recommended tips include the following:
- If the post-surgery pain is a little hard to bear, you may ask your dentist to prescribe an appropriate pain-relieving medication.
- Hold warm salty water in your mouth after meals to dislodge any food particles that may be stuck. However, you must wait a day after surgery before starting with this type of mouth rinsing.
- It’s best to consume only soft foods that are easy-to-chew in the days after the surgery.
- Swear off cigarettes for at least 2 days after the surgery.
- Refrain from consuming alcohol, especially in the days following the extraction and preferably later on as well.
Natural Pain Management at Home
Home remedies can help you get rid of the pain associated with the eruption of a wisdom tooth. However, if the pain keeps coming back, getting the tooth pulled by a dentist may be the best solution.
Here are some home remedies for wisdom tooth pain.
1. Tap the Pain-Relieving Benefits of Clove
Clove has been shown to reduce the pain from wisdom teeth as well as other kinds of toothaches. Its anesthetic and analgesic properties can numb the pain. Plus, its antiseptic and antibacterial properties prevent infection. Both the clove buds and clove oil can be used.(2)
- Use a cotton ball to apply some clove oil on the painful wisdom tooth and surrounding gum area. Reapply two to three times a day. If you find clove oil too strong, dilute it with a little olive oil.
- You can also place 2 or 3 whole cloves in your mouth close to the aching wisdom tooth. As the cloves start releasing their essential oil, you will get relief from the pain. Follow this remedy as needed.
- Another option is to mix 1 crushed garlic clove, a little rock salt, and a few drops of clove oil to make a paste. Apply a thick coat of the mixture on the swollen gums and leave it on for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, rinse it off with warm water. Do this once or twice daily.
2. Rinse Your Mouth with Salt Water
- Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water. Swish it in your mouth several times a day to keep the pain and germs away.
- You can also mix equal amounts of salt and pepper with a few drops of water to form a paste. Apply this paste on the affected tooth and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Follow this remedy two to three times daily until the pain is gone.
3. Benefit from the Healing Potential of Garlic
Garlic has antioxidant, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and other medicinal properties that help relieve wisdom tooth pain. It can even prevent or slow down bacterial infections in your mouth.(4)
- Slightly crush a garlic clove and hold it against your aching wisdom tooth.
- You can also chew 1 to 2 garlic cloves to get relief from the pain.
- Alternatively, mix 1 to 2 garlic cloves crushed into a paste with some black salt. Apply it on the affected area. Leave it on for a few minutes and then spit it out.
Follow any of these remedies once or twice daily for a few days to alleviate the pain.
4. Use Activated Charcoal as a Deep-Cleansing Agent
Activated charcoal is much touted for its natural teeth-whitening effect, but it has much more to offer for your dental health than just that.
It can facilitate teeth remineralization, balance out the oral microbes, prevent cavities, and improve foul breath.
Activated charcoal is known for its adsorption properties, which means that it binds to the acidic or toxic elements that come in its path and speeds up their excretion from the body. By this logic, using a toothpaste that contains activated charcoal will help in the easy elimination of acidic plaque from the mouth. This, in turn, will reduce the risk of bacterial cavities, which often aggravate wisdom tooth pain.
- Applying moist activated charcoal powder as a poultice against your sore tooth will help draw out the infection and relieve the pain.(10)
To make an activated charcoal compress:
- Break open a few activated charcoal capsules and shake out the contents into a shallow bowl. Alternatively, you can crush a few charcoal tablets and use the fine powder.
- Add a few drops of spring or filtered water to the powder in order to make a paste. Make sure that the consistency of the paste is “stiff” and not runny.
- Now, take a piece of gauze and place a sufficient quantity of the paste on it.
- Bite down on the gauze with the infected tooth while applying gentle pressure.
- Allow the paste to squish around in the mouth.
- To make sure that the paste penetrates deeply into the infected region, tuck the gauze or hold it, with the charcoal side against the abscess or the infected area.
- It should take no more than 10 minutes for you to register noticeable relief from your pain.
5. Safeguard Your Oral Health with Onion
- Simply chew a few slices of raw onion for a few minutes.
- If you cannot chew due to the swelling and pain, place a small piece of raw onion directly on the affected tooth.
Use either of these remedies several times a day to lessen the pain.
6. Use Guava Leaves for Symptomatic Relief
Guava leaves are an excellent toothache reliever. They contain a bioflavonoid known as quercetin that has antispasmodic properties. Plus, they are rich in anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and analgesic properties.(5)
- Chew 1 or 2 tender guava leaves slowly to release their juice into your mouth. Soon, your wisdom tooth pain will be gone.
- Another option is to boil 4 to 6 guava leaves in 1 cup of water for about 5 minutes. Strain the water and allow it to cool. Use it as a mouthwash two times a day to alleviate wisdom tooth pain.
7. Use Vanilla Extract as a Natural Anesthetic
Vanilla extract contains low levels of alcohol and is rich in antioxidant properties that can help numb the pain of a wisdom tooth.(6)
- Apply 3 or 4 drops of vanilla extract onto a cotton swab.
- Hold the cotton swab directly against the affected tooth for several minutes.
- Repeat two to three times a day until the problem subsides.
8. Apply Turmeric to Promote Healing
In Ayurveda, turmeric is often used to provide respite from tooth pain. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help keep the gums healthy and prevent tooth decay due to bacterial infection. Turmeric can also be used as a pit and fissure sealant and mouth wash.(7)
- Apply some turmeric powder on the affected teeth. Leave it on for a few minutes and then rinse your mouth well with warm water.
- Another option is to mix ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder with a little mustard oil and use the mixture to massage your teeth and gums. Leave it on for 10 minutes and then spit it out.
Repeat either of these remedies once or twice daily for at least a few days.
The following remedies are not backed by scientific evidence, nor are they reviewed by our health experts. Nonetheless, a number of general users have reported an improvement in their condition using these anecdotal remedies.
1. Use Hydrogen Peroxide as a Mouth Rinse
Hydrogen peroxide has also registered considerable success among users as a complementary tool to minimize the pain and inflammation associated with an impacted wisdom tooth. This vital ingredient helps to eliminate the infection-carrying oral bacteria, deters plaque buildup in the mouth, and facilitates speedy recovery of bleeding gums.
A hydrogen peroxide formulation of 3%, which comes in a patented brown bottle, is ideal for addressing toothache. When it comes to relieving wisdom tooth pain, there are more ways than one to use hydrogen peroxide: you can gargle with it, spray it on the affected tooth, or just hold it in the mouth for a few minutes several times a day.
- In order to safely use hydrogen peroxide as a mouth rinse, you must first dilute it. To that end, mix 3% hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water and gently swish the solution in your mouth before spitting it out. It is essential that you never swallow this solution, as it can end up damaging your insides. After you spit out the hydrogen peroxide solution, rinse your mouth several times with plain water.
Rinsing your mouth with a hydrogen peroxide solution is an interim measure to provide temporary relief from the toothache that is accompanied by fever and a foul taste in the mouth (both are signs of infection). However, you will need something a little stronger to eliminate the infection from its root, which can only be prescribed by a dentist.
2. Apply Apple Cider Vinegar to the Painful Tooth
The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar makes it an effective agent for killing the bacteria responsible for your toothache. Its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties also contribute to its therapeutic potential for managing wisdom tooth pain.
- Soak a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and press it gently on the tooth to relieve the pain.
- Add apple cider vinegar to water and sip on this concoction to bring down the intensity of your tooth pain.
When Should I Go to My Dentist About My Wisdom Teeth?
You may want to check in with your dentist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Infection in the mouth
- Swelling in the face
- Swelling of the gumline at the back of the mouth
The dentist will take x-rays to assess the state of your teeth and conduct extraction surgery if required.
- You can also put a piece of cheese over the affected wisdom tooth for quick relief.
- Slowly chew sugar-free gum after meals to stimulate saliva production and fight the infection.
- Oil pulling is a very good option for relieving oral health problems.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash to reduce inflammation.
- Don’t chew hard food.
- Brush your teeth and tongue regularly. Floss your teeth once daily.
- Reduce the quantity of sugar in your diet to prevent infection.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Relaxation and deep breathing can also help in wisdom tooth pain management.
These remedies may provide temporary relief from the pain. However, you must visit your dentist so that he or she can examine the tooth and decide whether further treatment is necessary.
- Renton T, Wilson NHF. Problems with erupting wisdom teeth: signs, symptoms, and management. The British journal of general practice: the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4979926/. Published August 2016.
- Kamkar Asl M, Nazariborun A, Hosseini M. Analgesic effect of the aqueous and ethanolic extracts of clove. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075701/. Published 2013.
- Aravinth V, Narayanan MBA, et al. Comparative evaluation of salt water rinse with … Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry. http://www.jisppd.com/article.asp?issn=0970-4388;year=2017;volume=35;issue=4;spage=319;epage=326;aulast=Aravinth. Published 2017.
- Bayan L, Koulivand PH, Gorji A. Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/. Published 2014.
- Ashu Agbor M, Naidoo S. Ethnomedicinal Plants Used by Traditional Healers to Treat Oral Health Problems in Cameroon. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606091/. Published 2015.
- Medwin Publishers. https://medwinpublishers.com/OAJDS/OAJDS16000106.php?id=14. Published September 07, 2016
- Nagpal M, Sood S. Role of curcumin in systemic and oral health: An overview. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633300/. Published 2013
- Anyanechi C, Saheeb B. Toothache and self-medication practices: a study of patients attending a niger delta tertiary hospital in Nigeria. Annals of medical and health sciences research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4250986/. Published 2014.