Wisdom teeth — the third molars — are notorious for triggering toothaches, sore gums and jaw pain. In some patients, these problematic teeth bring about headaches, earaches and sore throats.
Pain from a wisdom tooth can be debilitating — enough to send most people running to their oral surgeon. Treatment can relieve the misery, but what makes it hurt so badly?
Why Wisdom Teeth Eruption Is Painful
When your third molars begin to erupt, it’s essentially like you’re teething — just as you did when your baby teeth came in. As the third molars crown, they have to push their way through nerve-filled gum tissue. This slow-motion event creates significant discomfort.
For many patients, however, eruption through the gums isn’t the main source of pain. Wisdom teeth frequently grow in at the wrong angle and become impacted, or stuck in the gums. When this happens, pain can radiate into nearby teeth.
In addition to gum pain, an impacted tooth can also create referred pain in the jaw, ear and head.
Typically, overcrowding causes a wisdom tooth to become impacted. The jaw doesn’t have enough space to properly accommodate the tooth, so it cannot emerge properly.
Infection Can Also Cause Pain in Wisdom Teeth
Painful, swollen gums can also be a symptom of a wisdom tooth infection, a condition called pericoronitis.
A partially erupted wisdom tooth is a hotbed of bacteria. Food particles and plaque can easily become trapped in the flaps of the gum tissue, and the area is nearly impossible to properly clean. As a result, the gums can become inflamed and infected.
In severe cases, a wisdom tooth infection can cause muscle spasms and pain in the jaw. Swelling of the face and neck can make it difficult to open your mouth. Pericoronitis can occur in any tooth, but infection is significantly more likely in the third molars of the lower jaw.
Treating Painful Wisdom Teeth
Treating a wisdom tooth infection typically involves a thorough professional cleaning and a course of oral antibiotics.
For short-term pain relief, over-the-counter analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective. Ice packs and mouth rinses are also helpful.
With most cases of infected or impacted teeth, however, removal is recommended — even if the pain goes away. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), third molars that show signs of disease or problems should be extracted to prevent damage to neighboring teeth and further oral health issues.
Dr. Maxfield and Dr. Partridge at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah specialize in wisdom tooth management and have the experience and qualifications to safely perform routine and complex oral surgery procedures. If you would like to avoid the pain and hassle of wisdom teeth problems, contact one of our three Salt Lake City area offices today to schedule a consultation.