• Wisdom teeth are the rear molars that erupt usually during the late teens or early 20s.
  • Wisdom teeth can cause various dental problems including overcrowding of the existing teeth and impaction, either into neighbouring teeth or into the gum.
  • Problematic wisdom teeth should be removed.
Wisdom teeth are the molars (back teeth) that come through last, usually in the late teens or early 20s. There are normally two wisdom teeth in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw, but some people have less than four, or even none at all.

Sometimes, the wisdom tooth comes through at an angle and pushes into the gum or the tooth beside it. This is called impaction. A wisdom tooth on an angle can’t help with chewing, which makes it useless and sometimes painful.

Problems with wisdom teeth

When there is not enough room in the jaw for wisdom teeth, it can stop them coming through properly. Brushing and flossing these teeth can be difficult. Food and bacteria can get stuck between the wisdom tooth and the tooth next to it, leading to tooth decay and gum infections.

Crowded wisdom teeth in the upper jaw often lean sideways and rub against the cheek. This may cause ulcers on the cheek and chewing problems. Wisdom teeth may also push the other teeth closer together and affect a person’s bite.

Symptoms of wisdom teeth infection

Signs of gum infection caused by a wisdom tooth include:
  • red, inflamed gum near the wisdom tooth
  • swelling
  • pain
  • pus coming from the gum
  • the lymph glands under the jaw become swollen and sore
  • it may become difficult to open the mouth and to swallow
  • fever.

Treatment for wisdom teeth infection

Infections caused by wisdom teeth can be treated with antibiotics. However, the infection may keep coming back if problem teeth are not removed. People who have other health problems, especially those with lower immunity, may have complications from these infections.

Removal of wisdom teeth

X-rays will help to tell if wisdom teeth might cause problems. Some wisdom teeth do not cause problems and do not need to be taken out. Sometimes, the dentist or oral surgeon may just need to cut a small part of the gum to help the wisdom tooth come through.

If wisdom teeth do need to be taken out, a local or general anaesthetic will be used, so you won’t feel it. Because wisdom teeth are large, the hole where the tooth was may be stitched to help it heal. It is normal for your jaw and gum to be sore, swollen and bleed for a few days after having a wisdom tooth out.

One possible complication of wisdom teeth removal is a dry socket (alveolar osteitis), when the area where the tooth came out of doesn’t heal properly. Bad breath and pain from the socket are signs. A dry socket can be successfully treated by your oral health professional.

Problem wisdom teeth are best removed early

Wisdom teeth don’t usually cause any pain until they start to do damage, so it is best to find out if your wisdom teeth are likely to cause problems sooner rather than later. The roots of wisdom teeth are still forming in a teenager so it is easier to take them out at this age. It may be more complicated if a person waits until later in life, when the roots are fully formed.

Care after surgery

Your oral health professional will talk with you about how to care for your mouth after having a wisdom tooth taken out. Some general suggestions include:
  • Take pain-relieving medication if needed (and on advice from your oral health professional)
  • Hold warm salty water in your mouth. Do this after meals and no earlier than 24 hours after surgery.
  • Eat soft, easy-to-chew foods for the next few days.
  • Don’t smoke for 48 hours after the surgery.
  • Avoid alcohol.

Where to get help

  • Your maternal and child health nurse
    • Community dental clinics:
    • The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne:
      • General enquiries or to make an appointment Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 outside Melbourne metro 8.30 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday
      • Dental emergencies Tel. 1300 360 054 8.30 am to 9.15 pm, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 9.15 pm, weekends and public holidays
  • Your private dental clinic:
  • Orthodontist

Things to remember

  • Wisdom teeth usually come through during the late teens or early 20s.
  • They can cause problems such as overcrowding, tooth decay and infection.
  • Problem wisdom teeth are best removed early.

More information

Mouth and teeth

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Dental Health Services Victoria

Last updated: April 2015

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.