From babyhood to adolescence, teeth erupt in stages: first incisors, then canines, premolars and molars and, finally, wisdom teeth. The latter is often the most intriguing; what is a wisdom tooth? Dentists call them third molars, and they appear at the back of the mouth. Some people don’t experience a single problem with their wisdom teeth, but in others, they can cause pain, infection and other instances of discomfort.
Where and When Wisdom Teeth Come In
People usually develop four wisdom teeth, each emerging behind the molars on both sides of the upper and lower jaw. They usually appear between the ages of 17 and 21. How they emerge differs with the individual. Nonetheless, wisdom teeth may only partially erupt, or even stay buried within the gum tissue. Teeth that don’t appear and remain covered by this tissue or bone are called “impacted.”
Room to Grow?
Wisdom teeth can lead to problems if there isn’t enough space for them to surface or they come through in the wrong position. If your dentist says your wisdom teeth are impacted, he or she means they are trapped in your jaw or under your gums.
As your wisdom teeth make their way through your gums, your dentist will be monitoring your mouth for signs of the following:
- Wisdom teeth that aren’t in the right position can allow food to become trapped. That gives cavity-causing bacteria a place to grow.
- Wisdom teeth that haven’t come in properly, which can make it difficult to floss between the wisdom teeth and the molars next to them.
- Wisdom teeth that have partially come through can give bacteria a place to enter the gums and create a place for infection to occur. This may also lead to pain, swelling and stiffness in your jaw.
- Wisdom teeth that don’t have room to come through are thought by some to crowd or damage neighboring teeth.
- A wisdom tooth that is impacted can form a cyst on or near the impacted tooth. This could damage the roots of nearby teeth or destroy the bone that supports your teeth.
Wisdom Tooth Pain
Painful wisdom teeth can occur for a number of reasons. Perhaps your wisdom teeth have come in crooked, can’t fit properly in your mouth, or have led to an infection around your teeth. Regardless of the cause, painful wisdom teeth can really impact your overall oral health and should be treated immediately.
Wisdom tooth pain can sometimes come out of nowhere, suddenly erupting overnight without warning. On the other hand, wisdom tooth pain can also come on slowly and gradually, and can be shrugged off or perhaps mistaken for something else.
An important first step if you think you may be experiencing wisdom tooth pain is to make an appointment to see your dentist. He or she will be able to evaluate the area, take necessary X-rays, and determine whether or not your pain is truly wisdom tooth pain.
Wisdom Teeth Pain Symptoms
If you still have your wisdom teeth, you may be wondering if you are experiencing wisdom teeth pain. As the wisdom teeth come in, they can be very painful. How can you recognize this unique pain?
- You’ll feel wisdom teeth pain at the back of your mouth, behind your molars.
- If you look into a mirror, you may even notice that your wisdom teeth have begun to poke through your gums.
- The area might also be red, enflamed and tender to the touch.
- Some people, however, don’t have any visible symptoms of wisdom teeth pain.
Oral pain can also have a number of other causes. They can include tooth decay , fracture or abscess, a broken or damaged filling, nightly teeth grinding, and gum infection. No matter what the cause though, you should still see your dentist when you experience oral pain.
Keeping Your Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth that are not removed should continue to be monitored because the potential for developing problems later on still exists. As people age, they are at greater risk for health problems—and that includes potential problems with their wisdom teeth. Be sure to, floss around your wisdom teeth and visit your dentist regularly. Regular dental visits allow your dentist to evaluate your wisdom teeth and your overall dental health.
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 over-the-counter medical treatments and natural home remedies available.
A numbing dental gel may help reduce feeling in the gums and dull the pain. 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) may be effective pain management until a person can see a dentist for treatment.
Applying an ice pack to the jaw can help reduce 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.
Salt water rinse
Rinsing the mouth with salt water several times a day may help to reduce symptoms such as pain. Salt water has natural disinfectant properties. A study showed that rinsing the mouth with salt water can help reduce bacteria.
Sometimes, a build-up 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 salt water 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 to relieve wisdom tooth pain is positive. A study showed that there is promise for 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
A study 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 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.
Tea bags should only be placed in the mouth when completely cooled. A 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 tea bag 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.
In some cases, home remedies may not alleviate the pain of an impacted wisdom tooth. A wisdom tooth may be removed in a dental surgery by a dentist or in a hospital by a dental surgeon. Local anesthetic will be injected into the affected area to numb the pain of surgery. The practitioner will apply pressure to the tooth to lossen it from its socket.
Small cuts are made around the tooth, and the wisdom tooth may be cut into smaller pieces before removal. The procedure is a short one that 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 anesthetic wears off until around three days later, but the pain sometimes lasts for two weeks.
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.
Do wisdom teeth always cause problems?
No. If there is enough room they will usually come through into a useful position and cause no more problems than any other tooth. Often there will be some slight discomfort as they come through, but this will disappear once the tooth is fully in position.
What problems should I be prepared for?
If part of the wisdom tooth has appeared through the gum and part of it is still covered, the gum may become sore and perhaps swollen. This is called ‘pericoronitis’. Bacteria and bits of food can collect under the gum edge, and it will be difficult to clean the area properly.
This is a temporary problem that can be dealt with by using mouthwashes, special cleaning methods and possibly antibiotics. If the problem keeps coming back, it may be better to have the tooth removed.
Are x-rays needed for wisdom teeth?
The dental team will usually take x-rays to see the position of the root, and to decide whether there is room for the tooth to come through into a useful position.
What are the main reasons for taking wisdom teeth out?
Far fewer wisdom teeth are now taken out than in the past. If the tooth is not causing problems, your dentist will not want to remove it. They will only remove wisdom teeth:
- When it is clear that they will not be able to come through into a useful position because there is not enough room, and they are also causing some pain or discomfort.
- If they have only partly come through and are decayed – these teeth will often decay as it will be difficult to clean them as thoroughly as your other teeth.
- If they are painful.
Are wisdom teeth difficult to take out?
It all depends on the position and the shape of the roots. Your dentist will tell you how easy or difficult each tooth will be to remove after looking at the x-rays. Upper wisdom teeth are often easier to remove than lower ones, which are more likely to be impacted. Your dentist will say whether the tooth should be taken out at the dental practice, or whether you should be referred to a specialist oral surgeon at a hospital. Very occasionally there is a possibility of some numbness of the lip after the removal of a lower tooth. Your dentist will tell you if it is possible in your case.
Will it make any difference to my face or mouth?
Removing wisdom teeth may cause some swelling for a few days. But as soon as the area is healed, there will be no difference to your face or appearance. Your mouth will feel more comfortable and less crowded, especially if the wisdom teeth were impacted.
What should I expect after a wisdom tooth is taken out?
The amount of discomfort will depend on how easy it was to remove the tooth. There is usually some swelling and discomfort for a few days afterwards, and it is important to follow any advice you get about mouthwashes and so on, to help with the healing. Normal painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen will usually deal with any pain. It is best to stay fairly quiet and relaxed and avoid smoking and drinking alcohol for 24 hours afterwards to make sure there are no bleeding problems. There may be some stitches to help the gum heal over. Your dentist will probably want to see you again about a week later to check how your mouth is healing, and to remove any stitches.
What does it cost to remove wisdom teeth?
The cost of having wisdom teeth removed will vary according to the difficulty of the procedure and whether it is being carried out in a dental practice or hospital. It is always recommended that you get a written estimate before starting treatment.