Wisdom Teeth Pain and Other Common Symptoms

Our extensive guide to wisdom teeth pain begins here, with a quick guide on why they can cause problems and what sort of symptoms they can cause.

We will then advise you on:

 

“Why Do We Get Problems With Wisdom Teeth?”

Wisdom teeth pain symptoms, caused by their ‘impaction’, are a common problem. These ‘third molars’ are the last teeth to erupt into the mouth. There are usually four, one in each corner of the mouth at the back. They most commonly appear between the ages of 17 and 24, but can also erupt much later.

Symptoms are common here as they are the last molars to enter the mouth, there is often not enough space for them to fully come through. Therefore they may only partially erupt into the mouth or not come through at all.

"Graphic showing the cause of wisdom teeth pain i.e. pericoronitis"

Graphic showing the cause of most problems – pericoronitis

When there is enough room, they will come through into the mouth normally and act as any other tooth. There may be some problems including dental pain as they are growing in, (you may thus occasionally need some mild pain relief – such as acetaminophen, paracetamol) but this will clear up once the tooth finds its final position.

Pain and other symptoms can arise when there is not sufficient room in the mouth. The tooth may become impacted…

 

What is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?

A tooth is described as impacted if it is blocked from erupting into the mouth fully.  Thus it will lie at an angle instead of being upright, remaining tipped against the tooth in front of it.

Technically, any tooth can become impacted but it is wisdom teeth that are the most often affected, owing to their late eruption.

Impacted teeth can cause a range of problems, but it should also be noted that they may cause no problems at all.

 

 

“What Symptoms Might I Get?”

"Graphic showing the common wisdom teeth symptoms"

When a wisdom tooth is problematic symptoms may include:

  • Pain and swelling of the gum overlying the impaction – this is due either infection of this operculum or trauma from the tooth above hitting into it, or a combination of both. For example, a swelling that arises from infection may make the upper tooth impinge onto the gum – traumatizing it more and causing a vicious cycle.
  • Bad breath, due to infection and/or debris building up in the area.
  • A bad taste in the mouth, for the same reasons.
  • Pus coming out from the swollen gum area.
  • Aches when you open your mouth, as you are stretching the inflamed tissues.
  • Difficulty on opening your mouth.
  • Tenderness when chewing or biting as this hurts the swollen gum area.
  • Pain/ulcers on the inner cheek, where the pointy parts (cusps) of the impacted teeth may be digging into the soft tissues of the cheeks.
  • Ear-ache, as pain can spread outward from the area.

The symptoms can occur for a few days and then clear up. It can then come back at any time, often with weeks or months between occurrences.
"Image of woman with icepack for wisdom tooth pain"

 

More serious symptoms can develop:

Watch out for these signs, and note that they may develop quite quickly:

  • Swollen glands under the chin (‘lymph nodes’).
  • Swelling of the face and jaw, may indicate cellulitis.
  • Muscle spasms in the jaw.
  • Fever and general malaise.

Such symptoms may indicate a severe, spreading infection which can be very serious if left untreated. Immediate advice should be sought from your dentist.

 

The cause of these problems is that when a wisdom tooth is impacted, a flap of gum will lie over it.  As it is difficult to clean effectively under the gum flap, bacteria will proliferate here and the gum will become inflamed.  This inflammation is known as ‘pericoronitis’.

Pericoronitis is usually relatively easy to remedy, as it usually remains localized. It is when it becomes a recurring problem (or if it ever gives rise to dangerous symptoms like those above) that extraction must be considered.

 

An impacted tooth can also be present in the mouth without you even knowing about it, because it may not be causing any symptoms.  However other problems can also be associated with impacted wisdom teeth:"Image of tooth extraction and forceps"

  • They are prone to decay. This is because food can trap around them and they are difficult to clean. The tooth lying beside will also be at increased risk of decay for the same reason. The tooth may become sensitive and/or painful.
  • Likewise, the area is more prone to gum disease for similar reasons: it is difficult to clean.
  • Rarely, cysts and other such growths may form around an impacted tooth.

Therefore even when they aren’t causing pain, or other noticeable symptoms, they should be checked regularly. Your dentist can make sure that all is well in the area, or if any damage begins to occur then the situation can be remedied sooner rather than later.

 

Prevention of Symptoms

The cleaner the area and your mouth in general is kept, the less likely that pericoronitis and other problems will occur.

Therefore general oral hygiene measures should be adhered to, including flossing in the area of the wisdom tooth and regular use of mouthwashes.  Your dentist can guide you on this.

 

Next: Advice on Wisdom teeth pain relief for advice on home remedies and what your dentist can do to help. Or jump to what to expect if you need wisdom tooth removal. 

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  • Cassandra

    Hello, I found this information very helpful… One of my wisdom teeth has been coming in for a little over two years now. It’s the one on my bottom right. It looks like it’s almost fully in but a part of my gums are over the tooth.. A couple mornings ago I woke up with this pain in my jaw. The next day it progressed to very bad swelling on my gums and part of my jaw inside my mouth. My throat hurts and tonsills are swollen. My neck hurts and my head also a little. I can’t hardly swollow and can’t hardly open my mouth. It feels like my jaw is just stiff. The tooth itself is straight with my other teeth, but I had a jaw tooth on the left side pulled when I was a child so this wisdom tooth is pushing all my teeth over so it will have room itself. I have healthy teeth and have never had braces or anything, but I can actually tell that my teeth are out of line with each other now that this wisdom tooth is trying to come in. This wisdom tooth is also starting to be a cavity because it’s a little harder to clean.. I would just like to know what to do? Weather my tooth needs to be took out or not?? I know one thing, I’ve never had a tooth ache or anything, but this really does hurt. I could cry it hurts me so bad. I don’t even want to eat because of the intense pain I’m having..

    • Dr Barry Hughes

      Hi Cassandra,

      The ONLY advice that should be given to you in this case is to get to your dentist! Only be examining your mouth can any good advice be given in this case! Hope you get it all sorted out soon!

      Barry

  • fidgefodge

    Hi,
    My top 2 wisdom teeth have come in. The one on the left has completely come in and I’ve had no issues. The one on the right has come in but only half way. A few days ago I woke up and my cheek was hurting, it felt as though my top right wisdom tooth had cut my cheek. Now a few days later it still hurts and if I press my tongue to my cheek near the jawline behind the molar it hurts. I also have tenderness when I touch the lower jaw. There is discomfort/mild pain when I open my mouth as well and today the right side of my throat also has some discomfort. Is this just a natural progression of my wisdom tooth attempting to push out?
    The last time I was at my dentist was May 29th of this year, he said everything looked really good but I did not have an x-ray. I have no issues with removing my wisdom teeth but my dentist suggested that I wait until the remaining 2 bottom ones have come through a bit, that way we can take out all 4 at the same time.

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