What Causes Wisdom Tooth Pain?

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Pain in the jaw may be the first indication that the teeth at the back of your mouth aren’t in great shape. Wisdom teeth rarely cause pain unless something is off. So, what causes this wisdom tooth pain in the first place, and how do you go about relieving the pain?

Wisdom tooth pain can occur when your wisdom teeth grow and puncture the gums or when they’ve failed to erupt through the gums. At times, it’s also due to gum disease or tooth cavities. Removing your wisdom teeth is the safest remedy for this pain, and it helps prevent future complications.

Let’s take a closer look at why we have wisdom teeth and why they sometimes cause us pain. We’ll also look at how to remedy the pain and when to consider getting your wisdom teeth taken out for good.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Preparation for wisdom teeth removal surgery

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that grow in the back of your mouth. They are the last teeth to come in. While some people don’t have any wisdom teeth, they generally form in adults between the ages of 17 and 25. They can also grow in later stages of life.

Under typical circumstances, wisdom teeth have enough space on your jaw bone, gradually breaking through your gums, growing straight, and causing no pain. 

However, if they erupt and there’s not enough space, they’ll exert uneven pressure, leading to intense pain, inflammation, and irritation. You can use a product like Oragel or Anbesol (both on Amazon) to reduce the pain, but that still leaves you with a root cause to deal with.

In this case, your dentist will likely recommend a wisdom teeth extraction, which is a healthy, standard procedure for easing the pain and avoiding further problems. 

You might balk at that, but these teeth actually serve no meaningful function and should be removed if they cause dental complications.

What Causes Wisdom Tooth Pain?

Here are the main reasons why your wisdom teeth may be hurting you:

Growth Pains

As wisdom teeth grow, they must exert pressure before eventually breaking through the gums. This causes pain, slight swelling, and soreness. The teeth around wisdom teeth may also develop mild sensitivity.


Your wisdom teeth may fail to fully grow out of the gums due to crowding or lack of space in the jawbone. Known as impaction, this condition can cause swelling and pain when biting or chewing.

Gum Disease

Gum disease often comes with the development of wisdom teeth since they’re located at the back of the mouth, which isn’t as easy to clean. Your gums then become sore, and you’ll feel pain in the jaws.

Tooth Cavities

Wisdom teeth can grow very close to the neighboring molars due to the tight space conditions. Since this area is generally hard to clean, it’s a prime spot for cavities to form, leading to wisdom tooth pain.

Odontogenic Cysts

When a wisdom tooth has failed to break through the gum, an abnormal fluid-filled sac (odontogenic cyst) can form at the follicle of the impacted tooth. This causes pain in the tooth and jawbone.

When to Get Wisdom Teeth Removed

Wisdom teeth should be removed if they’re causing problems in the area around them. Symptoms may include jaw pain, odd shifting of other teeth, or even headaches.

If you believe you’re experiencing pain due to your wisdom teeth, it’s a good time to schedule an appointment with your dentist to have them checked and possibly removed. 

Wisdom teeth extraction is the best cure for the pain associated with them, and it will also prevent other related oral health complications.

While impacted wisdom teeth don’t always cause symptoms, the American Dental Association (ADA) says it may be necessary to remove them if you notice the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain in the jaw and difficulty opening your mouth
  • Repeated infection of the soft tissue behind the last tooth on your lower jaw
  • Fluid-filled sacs in the jaw bone
  • Swelling around the jaw
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Damage to nearby teeth
  • Extensive tooth decay
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Tender or bleeding gums

Please note that the decision to remove your wisdom teeth may not always be clear-cut. That’s why you need to see your dentist as soon as you notice the above symptoms. They’ll examine the position and health of your wisdom teeth, ultimately advising on what’s best for your situation.

Can You Keep Your Wisdom Teeth?

You can keep your wisdom teeth if they’re growing healthily without causing you any particular pain. This is generally the case if they’ve fully erupted and are growing in the correct position such that they can bite seamlessly with the opposing teeth. 

You should also be able to clean them normally as part of your daily oral hygiene practices. But if they’ve remained completely hidden below your gums or have partially erupted and are growing at odd angles, it’s time to visit your dentist.

Pain Remedies for Wisdom Tooth Pain

Wisdom tooth extraction

As nasty as wisdom tooth pain can be, there are things you can do to ease the pain, including the following:

Wisdom Tooth Removal

Having your wisdom teeth removed is safe and is the best way to fix any wisdom tooth-related issues and prevent future complications. 

Do a Cold Compress

Before your appointment rolls around, you can dull the pain in your jaw by pressing an ice pack (on Amazon) against your cheek for about 15 minutes.

Do a Warm Compress

Pressing a heating pad against the affected jaw increases blood flow, relieving tension and helping with the pain and inflammation. You can do this for 15 minutes, then follow it with the towel-wrapped ice pack compress.

Use Anti-inflammatory Meds Like Aspirin

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (on Amazon) and aspirin (also on Amazon) will reduce inflammation and ease wisdom tooth pain. Just be sure to stick to the recommended dosage.

Use a Mouth Numbing Gel

Use a mouth-numbing gel containing benzocaine (on Amazon) to relieve the pain in your gums caused by wisdom tooth complications.

Try a Salt Water Rinse

Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water kills harmful bacteria, helping you maintain good oral health and preventing wisdom tooth pain.

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