Inflamed wisdom teeth X-ray

Wisdom teeth sit in the very back of the mouth, right past your molars. If you are experiencing pain in the very back of your mouth, there’s a chance that your wisdom tooth is starting to break through the skin.

In this guide, we’re going to explain what wisdom teeth are, why they grow in, the pain you may experience and what to do when your wisdom teeth hurt.

Impacted left wisdom tooth

What are Wisdom Teeth?

Around 53% of people have one or more wisdom teeth. However, most people will not grow their wisdom teeth until after they’re 18. These teeth are the last to grow in and sit at the very back of your mouth.

Due to your other teeth already being in place, there’s often little room for your wisdom teeth.

The lack of room can cause pain, along with a host of other issues that we’ll discuss below. You don’t need wisdom teeth to have a functioning, healthy bite. However, if the wisdom teeth don’t cause you pain, there’s also no reason to have them removed.

Why Wisdom Teeth Grow in As You Age

For most people, wisdom teeth will begin to grow in between the ages of 17 and 24. However, we do see a few exceptions in our office where someone a bit younger will have wisdom teeth.

The reason wisdom teeth grow in is to complete your adult set of teeth, which is 32 if all of the wisdom teeth come in.

Modern humans do not need wisdom teeth. Our ancestors did not have the cooking skills that we have today, nor did they have utensils and sharp knives to cut through tough meats. So instead, they used their teeth to rip through their food and needed immense chewing power.

This is why we have wisdom teeth.

Evolution has led to modern humans growing their wisdom teeth in later. Even though 80 out of 100 young adults will have a wisdom tooth, many of them:

  • Remain hidden under the gums
  • Never fully grow out

If you are experiencing pain and want to understand if it is your wisdom teeth or something else, you can make an appointment with us for diagnosis.

Diagnosing Wisdom Teeth Pain

Pain is difficult to explain because everyone perceives it differently. For example, pain may be unbearable for you and moderate for others. Additionally, one person may have an impacted tooth that is causing severe jaw swelling, while someone else may have tender gums.

In these cases, it can be challenging for the average person to know what’s wrong with their teeth.

With that said, the following are the most common signs of wisdom teeth pain:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Swelling in the jaw
Swelling from wisdom tooth left jaw

You may also experience pain when chewing on your back teeth, but this can also be a molar issue and not just something wrong with your wisdom teeth.

Why do wisdom teeth hurt?

There are many reasons that you may experience wisdom teeth pain. The most common causes of pain are listed below.

Types of Wisdom Tooth Pain

Below are a variety of reasons that you’re experiencing wisdom teeth pain. We recommend that if you experience any form of dental discomfort, you come to our office for a complete exam.

Damage to Surrounding Teeth

Since you already have a mouth full of teeth when your wisdom teeth come in, there’s a good chance that the addition of a wisdom tooth will cause tooth crowding. What this means is that there’s not enough room for all of your teeth to be grown in properly.

Crowding can cause a variety of issues:

  • Misalignment of your teeth
  • Pressure against your other molars

Due to the lack of space in your mouth, the pressure can also lead to gum disease.

Gum Disease

Wisdom teeth grow in after much of the teeth in your mouth have settled. Adding an extra tooth to each of the four quadrants in your mouth is often impossible without the tooth being crooked.

Crooked teeth will push up against your existing teeth, which can cause your gum tissue to inflame.

Over time, the inflamed gums can cause a wide range of oral issues, including but not limited to:

  • Bad breath
  • Gum disease
  • Lockjaw 

Swelling and even pus can present themselves because of the pressure your wisdom teeth exert on the surrounding teeth.


A staggering 72% of lower third molars have impaction, yet many people never experience impacted teeth. Impaction is when your wisdom tooth tries to break through the skin but has only “partially erupted.”

What this means is that the top of the wisdom tooth breaks through the gums, but the rest remains under the gum. This is what we call “partial impaction.”

Some people may experience “full impaction,” meaning that the wisdom tooth never broke through the gums. In the case of full impaction, you may experience intense pain and may even have difficulty:

  • Eating any food on the area of impaction
  • Talking or sleeping

Impaction is often relieved with an extraction, which will ensure that the mouth is allowed to heal.

What to Do If Your Wisdom Teeth Hurt

If your wisdom teeth hurt, we recommend scheduling an appointment with us as soon as possible for extraction and post-operative care. In the meantime, you can do a few things to alleviate your pain temporarily. The following are go-to options for relieving your pain until you’re able to be seen in our office:

Rinse With Saltwater 

Saltwater is certainly not your idea of a “great-tasting” beverage, but it is a fantastic option for anyone with wisdom tooth pain. The saltwater should be swished in your mouth and spit out - not swallowed.

The reason we recommend rinsing your mouth with saltwater is to help prevent bacteria growth in your mouth.

Remember how wisdom teeth can cause gum disease? If you rinse with saltwater, you can:

  • Kill harmful germs in your mouth
  • Reduce the risk of gum disease

A rinse once or twice daily will lower your risk of gum disease or infection. Simply add some salt to your standard tap water and rinse. You want to add a decent amount of salt and not just a pinch for the full benefits.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers will help you mask the pain but will not cure the root cause of your pain. However, while you wait for your appointment, you can take aspirin to help alleviate the discomfort that you’re feeling.

You will want to:

  • Adhere to the label recommendations
  • Ask your doctor if it’s okay to take aspirin or other pain relievers if you’re already taking medication

Warm / Cold Compression 

Inflammation and pain are common with most injuries, and what do most people do when this happens? Apply a cold or hot compress to help ease the pain and inflammation. You can do the same thing if you have wisdom tooth pain. Use either a cold or warm compress.

Warning: Be sure that the compress is warm and not hot. You do not want to burn your face when trying to ease your pain.

You can also switch between these two compresses for a period of about 15 minutes of application each:

  • Warm compresses will improve blood flow to the jaw and will help relieve any tension that you have due to the pain
  • Cold compresses will work to reduce both pain and inflammation

Simply wrap the cold or warm item in a towel and apply it to the area where you’re experiencing pain. Experts recommend that if you alternate between a warm and cold compress, you always end with a cold compress.

You can follow this recommendation multiple times a day as needed to reduce swelling and pain.

In a professional setting, wisdom teeth extractions will allow you to alleviate your pain and feel better within just a few days. While we recommend keeping any teeth that aren’t painful or impacting your dental structure, we will extract wisdom teeth that are crooked, impacted or don’t have the space to come in fully.

Classification of wisdom tooth impaction

When to See a Dentist for Wisdom Teeth Pain

Tooth pain is never fun. You can have wisdom teeth without pain, but for anyone with pain, it can be very intense. Your first signal that it is time to make an appointment with us is that you’re feeling severe pain for no reason.

For example, the pain just started for no apparent reason with no injury or known oral issues involved.

Our team will be more than happy to X-ray your mouth and get a clear view of your wisdom tooth position. The tooth may be impacted, or it may just be breaking through the skin and likely to cause no pain afterward.

Schedule an appointment with us today if you have wisdom teeth pain and want to find permanent relief.

We’ll do everything possible to make your extraction as pain-free as possible.

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Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu - Dentist at Lighthouse Dental Centre and Blue Water Dental
Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu

With nearly two decades of experience, Dr. Sidhu enjoys helping his patients learn about dentistry. Knowledge is meant to be improved, challenged and shared.

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