Complications of wisdom tooth removal 

As with any procedure, removing your wisdom teeth carries some risks. However, these risks are usually small.

Risks can include:

  • dry socket – where a blood clot fails to develop in the tooth socket, or if the blood clot becomes dislodged 
  • nerve injury – this can cause temporary or permanent problems such as pain and numbness 
  • infection  signs include a high temperature, yellow or white discharge from the site of extraction, and persistent pain and swelling
  • bleeding

You should see your dentist if you have signs of infection after the procedure, or if you are bleeding heavily from the site of extraction.

Dry socket

Dry socket (alveolar osteitis) is one of the most common complications of wisdom tooth removal. It occurs when a blood clot fails to develop in the tooth socket, or if the blood clot becomes dislodged or disappears. This can happen three to five days after surgery.

The empty socket causes an ache or throbbing pain in your gum or jaw, which can be intense. There may also be an unpleasant smell or taste from the empty tooth socket. If you look into the socket, you might be able to see exposed bone rather than a blood clot.

You're more at risk of developing dry socket if:

  • you don't follow your dentist's instructions after the extraction
  • you smoke
  • you've had the condition before
  • you're over 25 years old
  • the extraction was complicated

Contact your dentist or surgeon if you suspect you have dry socket. They can flush any debris out of the socket or cover it with a medicated dressing, which may be removed and replaced frequently until it heals.

Nerve injury

Although far less common than dry socket, injury to sections of a nerve called the trigeminal nerve is another possible complication of wisdom tooth removal. This can cause pain, a tingling sensation and numbness in the tongue, lower lip, chin, teeth and gums.

In most cases the damage is temporary, lasting for a few weeks or months. However, it can be permanent if the nerve has been severely damaged.

A nerve injury can interfere with your daily activities, making things such as eating and drinking difficult and painful.

Every attempt will be made to minimise the possibility of nerve damage when your wisdom tooth is removed, and you should be informed about the risk of complications before the procedure.

General anaesthetic

It's sometimes necessary for general anaesthetic to be used when you have a wisdom tooth removed.

It carries some additional risks, but complications are very rare, occurring in less than one case for every 10,000.

Page last reviewed: 04/06/2013

Next review due: 04/06/2015