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Wisdom Tooth Pain: Survival Guide

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Wisdom tooth can be a real pain when they erupt at whim at the back of our mouths. Sometimes, wisdom tooth pain can be throbbing or aching; at other times, the pain can be downright intense. It usually accompanies with swollen or cut gums as the wisdom tooth tries to break through.

Also known as third molars, wisdom teeth are notorious late bloomers. They grow out last, usually when we’re around 17 to 25 years old, when the rest of our other teeth are done growing out. [1] For many of us, dealing with wisdom tooth pain is almost like a rite of passage into adulthood. Somehow at some point in our lives, we have to survive wisdom teeth pain, swollen cheeks, bloody gauze and liquid diets—a sort of proof that we’re truly grown up.

Because there’s usually not enough space left in our mouths, it is common for wisdom teeth to erupt partially, sideways, in strange directions, or in a way that makes it difficult for you to clean your teeth properly. Herein lies the problem: these impacted wisdom teeth can be hard to clean and cause food to be trapped in the crevices, leading to bacteria build-up.

Thus, impacted wisdom teeth make us susceptible to all sorts of problems like tooth decay, gum inflammation and infection, gum disease — all of which can lead to the destruction of neighbouring teeth, gums and bone. [2] The only cure? Wisdom tooth extraction.

If you’re really lucky and your wisdom teeth grows out perfectly, good for you. These extra wisdom teeth can actually help you in chewing your food. But if you’re like the majority 70% of us who experience at least one impacted tooth [3], here is a survival guide for kiasu Singaporeans on dealing with wisdom tooth pain and problems.

Why are wisdom teeth so painful?

We experience wisdom tooth pain because they are the last teeth to push through our gums, so some soreness and discomfort should be expected. It is mostly described as a dull, throbbing pain as the wisdom tooth pushes through bone and flesh to emerge from our gums — and this can take months.

Also, because there is a lack of space in our mouths, our wisdom teeth tend to become impacted. Our gums tend to take the brunt of it and become red, tender and sore.

Impacted wisdom teeth simply means wisdom teeth that are stuck partially or fully inside the gum because the jaw does not have enough space for it, or when the wisdom tooth tries to emerge but gets blocked by obstacles (e.g. another tooth next to it). [4] When the wisdom tooth tries to break through the gums in spite of this, it can cause pain and soreness.

If the pain is severe, it’s also possible that your impacted wisdom tooth has caused gum infection, tooth decay or cavities due to bacteria built-up in the crevices your wisdom tooth created.

What does an impacted wisdom tooth feel like?

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause you to experience these symptoms: [5]

  • Gums feel tender / throbbing pain
  • Jaw pain or swelling
  • Bad breath
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Difficulty when opening your mouth or chewing

Also try to inspect your wisdom teeth yourself by staring into a mirror and opening your mouth wide. Look for:

  • Any wisdom tooth poking through the gums
  • Red, swollen and tender gums

Ultimately, the only way to really know if your wisdom tooth is impacted is to see a dentist and get an X-ray done. The position of your wisdom tooth will show up clearly in the X-ray and your dentist will also be able to determine if it is affecting other teeth and causing infections in the area, a condition known as pericoronitis — an inflammation of soft tissues around that tooth. This is often characterised by bad bread and a bad taste in your mouth which can be horrible. It can also be characterised by a gum flap around a wisdom tooth.

What does wisdom tooth pain feel like?

Wisdom tooth pain is usually a throbbing, constant pain at the back of your mouth at your gums. This is typically due to your wisdom tooth pushing through your gums and growing at an angle due to a lack of space, applying constant pressure onto an adjacent tooth or bone. The pain can become worse when you chew, or when you drink hot or cold beverages.

Can wisdom teeth cause headaches and ear pain?

According to American Dental Association (ADA), your wisdom tooth growth causes it to move through your jawbone and breakthrough your gum line. This movement can cause a lot of discomfort, including headaches and earaches.

Also, bacteria and plaque can build up around your wisdom tooth area if it’s growing in a way that makes it difficult to clean. Over time, it may cause a wisdom tooth infection, causing inflammation in surrounding gums and tissue. The bacteria from your mouth can also enter your blood stream, causing problems in other parts of the body since they are all essentially connected. 

How to make wisdom tooth pain go away?

Sometimes, the pain and discomfort of wisdom tooth growth goes away on its own. But most of the times, the only way is to get rid of it — via a wisdom tooth extraction. You should see a dentist first though and he or she will help diagnose whether your wisdom tooth really needs to be removed. If your wisdom tooth is growing out at an angle, the dentist will almost always recommend you to remove it. Not only is it painful, but it is also difficult to maintain good oral hygiene with impacted wisdom teeth. It can cause a host of dental problems in future such as infections, cysts and diseases.

In the meantime, here are a few ways to relieve wisdom tooth pain on your own until your dental appointment day: [6]

  1. Apply a cold compress to your jaw: An ice pack can temporarily help to dull the ache in your jaw.
  2. Rinse your mouth with warm salt water: One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to get rid of bacteria in your mouth, since salt is a natural disinfectant. Dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt into a glass of warm water. Swirl and gargle the salt water in your mouth for 5 minutes before spitting it out.
  3. Hold a clove in your mouth without chewing: Another precious home remedy like a salt water gargle, cloves have a numbing effect. Hold it in your mouth for as long as you like and spit it out when you’re done.
  4. Chew an onion: Known for reducing inflammation and killing bacteria, onions are also great for pain relief. Chewing raw onion can irrigate the gums with onion juice, which helps to reduce bacterial growth.
  5. Apply a ginger and garlic paste: Mince or blend chopped garlic and ginger to create a paste like texture. Apply it to the affected area on your gums and tooth. This helps to kill bacteria and also serves as a painkiller.
  6. Apply tea bags: Besides it being a wallet friendly home remedy for eye bags and dark eye circles, tea bags can help reduce inflammation of your wisdom tooth. Refrigerate the tea bag first and place it over the affected area.
  7. Take medication: Aspirin/ibuprofen can help with the pain. Remember to follow instructions on the dosage.
  8. Use a mouth numbing gel: Numbing gels are made of benzocaine and it can also help dull the pain.

        If you are applying medications or gel, do remember to check the product’s ingredient label if you have allergies. 

        What should I do if I think I have a wisdom tooth infection?

        Pericoronitis – or wisdom tooth infection – occurs when the surrounding tissue of your wisdom tooth becomes infected and inflamed. Make sure you keep the area as clean as you can: rinse your mouth with warm salt water, brush and floss thoroughly, make sure there is no food trapped under a gum flap, in pockets of the gum or in between tooth crevices. You can also take pain relievers to deal with the wisdom tooth pain.

        Then make an appointment to see a dentist. Usually, a thorough cleaning at your dentist and a dose of antibiotics are sufficient to get rid of all the bacteria and infection. However, if infections continue to return, the best way to deal with it is to remove the wisdom tooth altogether.

        When should I see a dentist?

        If you are experiencing wisdom tooth pain, you should always see a dentist. Pain is always a first warning sign of something wrong, so it will be wise to not ignore it! If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, some symptoms include gum pain, tenderness or even bleeding. If you experience wisdom tooth pain alongside bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth, these are warning signs that your wisdom tooth has become infected and you should see your dentist as soon as you can.

        What happens if I don’t remove my wisdom tooth?

        It’s true that extracting your wisdom tooth can be scary and a bit of a hassle too. That’s why many of us try our best to avoid getting a wisdom tooth extraction if we can.

        But in this case of the wisdom tooth, it’s often wiser to get it removed. The stakes are too high: keeping an impacted wisdom tooth for the sake of convenience can lead to future infections like pericoronitis, growth of cysts that can damage bone and gum tissue, tooth decay, etc.

        According to Dr Andrew Tay from National Dental Centre Singapore, having your wisdom teeth now can spare you from recurrent dental problems. Also, procrastinating and removing the impacted wisdom teeth later on when you get older can give rise to more complications as older people have denser jaw bone structures, making excision and extraction more difficult. Health problems like diabetes, heart disease or cancer can also affect wisdom tooth surgery.

        How is wisdom tooth extraction done?

        The dentist will first inject a local anaesthetic into the affected area to numb it. Then, he will apply pressure to loosen the tooth from its socket. Incisions may also be made around the tooth and into the bone if the tooth is lodged in bone. This is usually called a wisdom tooth surgery, instead of a mere extraction. Sometimes, the dentist may drill into the tooth to break it up if it is stubbornly lodged in the jaw bone and cannot break free as a whole.

        The whole procedure takes about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how complex your wisdom tooth extraction is. 

        How much does wisdom tooth extraction cost?

        Again, the cost of wisdom tooth extraction ranges depending on the complexity of your wisdom tooth operation. Your dentist should let you know roughly during the consultation, whether your wisdom tooth can be removed by extraction or if surgical removal is needed.

        In general, wisdom tooth extraction in Singapore costs $250 to $800 per tooth while wisdom tooth surgery costs in a large ballpark range of $400 to $2,200, depending on which dental clinic you go to.

        Public hospitals and polyclinicsAffordable dental clinic chainsSpecialist dental clinics
        Consultation for wisdom tooth extraction$14.10 - $50$60 - $90$80 - $160
        Average cost of wisdom tooth extraction (per tooth)$250 - $400$250 - $600$600 - $800
        Average cost of wisdom tooth surgery (per tooth) $600 - $800$400 - $900$1,200 - $2,200

        Wisdom tooth extraction costs in Singapore

        Other additional costs apart from the dental consultation and the wisdom tooth operation costs include the cost of X-ray, CT scan and the option of hiring an anesthetist to administer general anesthesia (GA).

        In the case of dealing wisdom tooth pain, it’s wise to avoid being penny wise, pound foolish. Saving a little money and convenience without getting medical treatment can potentially set you up for recurring dental problems and even diseases later on in life, along with heftier bills.

        Consulting a dentist’s opinion on your wisdom tooth problems is best way forward and if the diagnosis is to remove your wisdom tooth, so be it. After all, your wisdom tooth does nothing for your intellect — it merely poses a challenge to you to make the right decision for your health.


        [1] Renton, T., & Wilson, N. H. (2016). Problems with erupting wisdom teeth: signs, symptoms, and management. The British journal of general practice: the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners66(649), e606–e608. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp16X686509

        [2] Dodson, T. B., & Susarla, S. M. (2010). Impacted wisdom teeth. BMJ clinical evidence2010, 1302.

        [3] Tay, A. (2018). Be wise about removing wisdom teeth. Retrieved from National Dental Centre Singapore (NCDS) https://www.ndcs.com.sg/news/patient-care/be-wise-about-removing-wisdom-teeth.

        [4] Hirsch, K. H. (2015). What are Impacted Wisdom Teeth? Retrieved from: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/impacted-teeth.html

        [5] Absolute Dental (2020). Common Signs You Need to Get Wisdom Teeth Removed. Retrieved from https://www.absolutedental.com/blog/common-signs-you-need-to-get-wisdom-teeth-removed/

        [6] Burgess, L. (2020). Ways to relieve painful wisdom teeth. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319461.

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