What are wisdom teeth?

Adults generally have up to 32 teeth. The final four teeth to grow at the back of the gums, one in each corner of the jaw, are known as wisdom teeth. Although our wisdom teeth generally appear between the ages of 17 and 25, they may not appear in some people for many years.

Possible complications

Wisdom tooth eruption can be uncomfortable and may cause several problems which cause your dentist to recommend having them removed. Look out for the following signs and symptoms associated with wisdom tooth eruption.

  • Persistent pain: Wisdom tooth eruption is a common cause of dental pain although this varies from person-to-person – some people experience no pain whilst others typically experience pain for 3–4 days. Talk with your dentist/oral health professional if you experience persistent pain that lasts for more than 4 days or pain that gets worse over time.
  • Infection: Brushing an erupted wisdom tooth can be difficult if the tooth has emerged at an angle (known as an ‘impacted’ wisdom tooth). Sometimes food and bacteria can get stuck next to the tooth, leading to infection and tooth decay. Signs of an infection can include red, inflamed gum near the tooth, pain, swelling, and bad breath.
  • Jaw discomfort and eating difficulties: An ‘impacted’ wisdom tooth can push against your other teeth and lean sideways into the cheek, causing discomfort in the jaw and mouth ulcers. This can result in eating difficulties as chewing food and swallowing become more challenging.


Why can wisdom teeth cause so much pain?

When your wisdom teeth start to emerge, your mouth would normally already contain 28 teeth. In many adults, these existing 28 teeth – including first and second molars – already fill their jaw and there is no space for the wisdom teeth. As a result, your wisdom teeth may become ‘impacted’ as they emerge. If impacted, the wisdom tooth could be stuck at an angle against your second molar. Consequently, it may only partially emerge.

The pain can be caused for several reasons:

  • If only partially emerged, the gum may become inflamed and painful
  • A partially emerged wisdom tooth may also become decayed and cause toothache because it can be difficult to keep it clean.

How can you relieve the pain of wisdom teeth?

Removing painful wisdom teeth can ultimately prevent further pain, but there are some home remedies you can try for wisdom tooth pain relief.

  • Warm saltwater can be used to help reduce pain. To make a saltwater rinse, mix one teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water and hold it in your mouth making sure it covers the affected tooth for two minutes. Then spit it out and repeat four times a day.
  • Cloves have a natural numbing effect that can be used for wisdom tooth pain relief. Clove oil can be applied diluted or directly onto a painful wisdom tooth with a cotton ball. Check the packaging for instructions and always read the label and follow the directions for use.
  • Onions are thought to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that may reduce swelling and prevent infection. Try cutting a piece of onion and chew on the side of the mouth with the painful tooth to get some relief, then spit the onion out.
  • Teabags contain tannins which may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. For wisdom tooth pain relief, try putting a tea bag in hot water and placing it in the fridge to cool. Once cold, take the tea bag out and put it in your mouth over the painful area.
  • Try pain relief medicines for wisdom tooth pain. Pain relievers such as Nurofen (ibuprofen) can help to reduce pain and inflammation associated with wisdom tooth eruption for up to 8 hours.*


*Mehlisch et al. 2010, Malmstrom et al. 2004, Malmstom et al. 1999. Sponsored by RB.


How can you prevent wisdom tooth complications?

If your wisdom teeth are coming through, there are some things you can do to help reduce the pain and prevent risk of infection. Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing the area with a small-headed toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Be gentle but make sure you brush thoroughly enough to get rid of food and minimise plaque. Using antibacterial mouthwash can also help to prevent bacteria building up and causing an infection. To help relieve discomfort, you could try a natural saltwater rinse by mixing one teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water and holding it over the affected tooth for two minutes before spitting it out.

To treat persistent wisdom tooth pain, your dentist may recommend that one or more of your wisdom teeth are removed. Wisdom tooth removal may be recommended early as a precaution to prevent future complications. Reasons to remove a wisdom tooth may include:

  • The tooth will never emerge properly because there is not enough room in your mouth.
  • The tooth has only partially emerged and, because it is difficult to clean, may have become decayed.
  • Your wisdom teeth are causing you intense discomfort and distressing levels of pain.

For wisdom tooth pain relief while waiting for your wisdom teeth to be removed, and also after removal, you may wish to try wisdom tooth pain relief medicine (for your wisdom teeth). An anti-inflammatory such as Nurofen can help relieve dental pain for up to 8 hours.*


*Mehlisch et al. 2010, Malmstrom et al. 2004, Malmstom et al. 1999. Sponsored by RB.