What are wisdom teeth?

Adults generally have up to 32 teeth. The final four teeth to grow at the back of the gums, one in each corner of the jaw, are known as wisdom teeth. They are named ‘wisdom teeth’ because they emerge so much later than the rest of our teeth, and bring our total number of molars – the teeth designed for grinding food – up to twelve. Although our wisdom teeth generally appear between the ages of 17 and 25, they may not grow in some people for many years. 

Why can wisdom teeth cause so much pain?

When your wisdom teeth start to emerge, your mouth would normally already contain 28 teeth. In many adults, these existing 28 teeth – including first and second molars – already fill their jaw and there is no space for the wisdom teeth. As a result, your wisdom teeth may become ‘impacted’ as they emerge. If impacted, the wisdom tooth could be stuck at an angle against your second molar. Consequently, it may only partially emerge. 

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The pain can be caused for several reasons:

  • If only partially emerged, the gum may become infected, inflamed and painful. This is known as ‘pericoronitis’. 
  • A pocket of infection called an abscess can form in the gum around an impacted wisdom tooth and second molar 
  • A partially emerged wisdom tooth may also become decayed and cause toothache because it can be difficult to keep it clean. 

How can you treat painful wisdom teeth?

You may find that your wisdom teeth cause discomfort as they emerge, but do not become impacted. Using an antibacterial mouthwash containing chlorhexidine can help to soothe your gums if they are sore. 

If the pain persists, then it is advisable to see a dentist who will typically x-ray your jaw to see whether your wisdom teeth have become impacted. To treat the pain, your dentist may recommend that one or more of your wisdom teeth are removed. Reasons to remove a wisdom tooth include: 

  • The tooth will never emerge properly because there is not enough room in your gums 
  • The tooth has only partially emerged and, because it is difficult to clean, may have become decayed 
  • Your wisdom teeth are causing you intense discomfort and distressing levels of severe pain. 

While waiting for your wisdom teeth to be removed, and also after removal, you may wish to take a painkiller such as Nurofen Express 200mg Liquid Capsules. The active ingredient in Nurofen is ibuprofen, which can help relieve your pain. Always read the label.