Having your wisdom teeth removed is a common procedure, but some risks are involved. These risks include pain, temporary swelling and bruising and some less common complications. Pain relief for wisdom teeth removal is best managed by following your dentist's instructions, which may include over-the-counter or prescription medication, comfort measures and ways to avoid preventable painful complications.
Simple extractions are performed for wisdom teeth that are not completely buried under gum or bone tissue, are positioned relatively straight compared to the other teeth and are easy for the dentist to loosen and remove. Simple extractions involve a minimal amount of trauma to remove the tooth, so postoperative pain can often be managed with over-the-counter pain medications. Nonsteriodal antiinflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) are typically recommended for relief of mild or moderate pain. These medications have the combined benefits of relieving pain and reducing inflammation. If you have a health condition that prevents you from taking NSAIDs, your dentist or oral surgeon may recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a prescription medication.
Prescription Pain Relievers
When wisdom teeth are difficult to loosen and remove, a surgical extraction may be performed. In these cases, postoperative pain can be more prominent and bruising or swelling may occur. Over-the-counter pain medications may not be adequate, so prescription-strength medications are often recommended. For moderate to severe pain, commonly prescribed pain relievers include prescription-strength ibuprofen (Motrin) and combination medications, such as codeine and acetominophen (Tylenol No. 3), hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Vicodin) and oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet). When taking these or any pain medications, it is important to follow specific dosage and safety instructions.
It is normal to have some discomfort or pain after having wisdom teeth removed. Avoiding alcohol, hot liquids and spicy foods and eating a soft diet in the days following the procedure can make the healing process more comfortable. Using warm salt water as a gentle mouth rinse for 24 to 48 hours after the procedure can have a soothing effect. Icing a swollen area at home can also help reduce swelling and pain. Place an ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth or towel on the swollen area for up to 15 minutes at a time.
Some postoperative complications can lead to an unexpected increase in pain. Pain that increases 2 to 4 days after the procedure may indicate the development of a complication. Pain relief for these complications can include prescription pain medications and specific additional treatment. For example, antibiotics would be used to treat an infection or a special medicated dressing would be used for a complication known as dry socket. Before taking any medication, make sure your dentist or oral surgeon is aware of any medical conditions you have. Pregnancy, gastrointestinal problems, liver or kidney disease, high blood pressure or drug allergies are a few examples of conditions to pay special attention to before taking any new pain medication.
Is This an Emergency?
- Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice: Pain Levels After Third Molar Surgical Removal -- An Evaluation of Predictive Variables
- Journal of the American Dental Association: The Influence of Cryotherapy on Reduction of Swelling, Pain and Trismus After Third-Molar Extraction -- A Preliminary Study
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Local Interventions for the Management of Alveolar Osteitis (Dry Socket)
- Mouth Healthy: Extractions
- American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: Wisdom Teeth