Wisdom teeth are your third molars, the furthest ones back in your mouth. They got their name because they typically appear when you’re between the ages of 17 and 21, when you’re more mature and have more wisdom.

If your wisdom teeth emerge correctly then they’ll help you chew and shouldn’t cause any problems. If there isn’t enough room for them to come out in the proper position, your dentist will refer to them as impacted.

When your wisdom teeth start to break through your gums, it’s normal to have some discomfort and swelling of your gums.

Once your wisdom teeth come through your gums, there could be complications that result in more swelling, including if they:

  • emerge only partially, allowing bacteria into the gums and jaw
  • aren’t positioned correctly, allowing food to become stuck and promoting the growth of cavity-causing bacteria
  • allow for formation of a cyst that can damage teeth and the bone that holds your teeth

Swollen gums can also be caused by a vitamin deficiency or gingivitis, but typically that swelling wouldn’t be isolated to your wisdom teeth.

If your swelling is caused or worsened by a piece of food stuck in the area, rinse your mouth thoroughly. Your dentist might recommend warm salt water or an antiseptic oral rinse. Once the food’s washed away, your swelling should reduce on its own.

Other ways to deal with wisdom teeth swelling include:

  • apply an ice packs or cold compress directly to the swollen area or to your face next to the swelling
  • suck on ice chips, keeping them on or near the swollen area
  • take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • avoid things that can irritate your gums, such as alcohol and tobacco

Experiencing some swelling and pain when your wisdom teeth come in isn’t unusual. Once your wisdom teeth are in, you may have swelling from a number of causes, such as lodged food or bacteria getting into your gums.

Once the cause is addressed, the swelling can usually be managed with items such as ice packs and NSAIDs.

If you experience pain or infections regularly, head to your dentist. They may recommend wisdom teeth removal to help your constant pain.