What are wisdom teeth?
Your teeth grow and change from birth as your jaw grows and you develop the need for more teeth. The last teeth that grow into your mouth usually do so between the ages of 17 and 21. These are your wisdom teeth, a third set of molars.
They are called wisdom teeth since they push through your gums around the age that adolescents are maturing and becoming adults. While it is normal to feel discomfort when your wisdom teeth push through your gums, pain is a sign that something is wrong.
Signs and symptoms of wisdom teeth
Your wisdom teeth appear in the very back of your mouth, behind all of your other teeth. When they begin to push through, your gums may swell and feel sensitive to the touch. As your wisdom teeth poke through, you’ll see white dots peek through your gums until the entire tooth is showing.
What causes wisdom tooth pain?
It is very common to not have enough room in your mouth for wisdom teeth. This can cause problems if there is nowhere for the teeth to surface, or if they grow in under other teeth.
In many cases, wisdom teeth are impacted, meaning that they are trapped under your jaw or gums. They may even be growing sideways against other teeth.
When to see a doctor for your wisdom teeth
Since pain is a sign that something is wrong with your wisdom teeth, talk to your dentist about your symptoms. Painful wisdom teeth can be a sign of:
Diagnosing wisdom tooth pain
Wisdom teeth are one reason why regular dental cleanings are important for your overall health. As you approach the age when your wisdom teeth make their way through your gums, your dentist will take regular X-rays to watch their development. This includes:
- Wrong position – If your wisdom teeth are growing incorrectly, it can cause problems in the future, such as putting you at risk for developing cavities.
- Growing too close to other teeth – If your wisdom teeth bump other molars, they can cause your tooth alignment to shift.
- Partially exposed – If your wisdom teeth grow in partially and then stop, you’re at risk for infection since bacteria have more space to get into your gum line.
Your dentist will determine whether it is safe to allow your wisdom teeth to grow in or if they need to be removed. Signs of serious problems include:
- Facial swelling
- Swelling of your gum line
Treatments for a wisdom tooth pain
If you have pain and you’re waiting to get in to see your dentist, try a home remedy for wisdom tooth pain. Use a mouthwash made up of hot water and a spoonful of salt. This will reduce swelling and inflammation. You may need to repeat it several times a day. You can also try an antibacterial mouthwash containing the active ingredient chlorhexidine to reduce inflammation.
Take over-the-counter pain medication as needed for your pain, too. Be sure to follow the usage instructions and don’t exceed the dosage guidelines. You should swallow, not crush, pain medicine and place it on the surface where your wisdom teeth are emerging.
- Bite on a piece of gauze that is placed in the back of your mouth where your wisdom teeth were removed. If your mouth is numb following surgery, do not bite down as you may end up damaging your cheeks and tongue.
- Apply an ice pack to your cheek for 10 minutes at a time to reduce swelling for the first one to two days after surgery.
- Take it easy and rest. Too much activity can reopen the surgical wounds that are healing.
- Stick to soft foods that don’t require chewing.
- Don’t use a straw, since sucking can loosen the blood clots forming on the wounds where your wisdom teeth were removed.
- Rinse with a salt-water solution multiple times each day to help with inflammation and prevent infection
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
John Hopkins Medicine: "Wisdom teeth extraction."
Kids Health: "What are impacted wisdom teeth."
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Oral Health Foundation: "Wisdom teeth."