What to Do about Jaw Pain After a Wisdom Tooth Extraction

When you have a lower wisdom tooth extraction, this can result in your jaw pain. The extraction process can cause trauma to the muscles around the extracted tooth and to your jaw. When this happens, it is called trismus and it will cause a restriction on how much you can open your mouth. 

The Extraction

Trismus, also called lockjaw, is more likely to occur if you have an impacted wisdom tooth extraction. This means that the tooth is either partially or completely submerged within the jawbone. In that case, the dentist must break the bone away from the tooth so that the tooth can be extracted. This can cause trauma to the muscles in the area.

Trismus may also occur as a result of the anesthesia injection. The needle can accidentally damage some of the tissue.


The primary symptom of trismus is jaw pain and a limited ability to open or close your mouth. The pain may come even when you do not move your jaw at all. You may also have pain when you try to bite something that requires you to open your mouth wide – like an apple, or when you try to brush your teeth. You may also have cramping in your jaw and you may not be able to chew or swallow some foods. Talking and breathing may also be difficult.

The Good News

Even though the condition may be painful and cause difficulty when talking or eating, it is not a permanent condition. It will usually take two or three weeks for the damaged muscles to heal. 

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

After the extraction of a wisdom tooth, it is also possible that you could have temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD). This is a problem in the joint where it is hinged with your skull. This can also cause pain and trismus after an extraction. Other factors may make it easier for trismus to occur, which include arthritis, genetics, and habits such as grinding or clenching your teeth. 

Pain Medications

If you have excessive jaw pain with the trismus condition, you may return to the dentist for some prescription pain medications. Otherwise, use over-the-counter pain medicines that will also reduce inflammation.

In cases that are more severe, you may also need medication to help relax your jaw muscles. Muscle relaxants can help stop your jaw muscles from cramping, which should also help to provide jaw pain relief. 

Management of Jaw Pain

In addition to the help you will get from the oral surgeon, there are a few things that you can do on your own to provide some jaw pain relief during the wisdom teeth recovery period. You can follow these exercises and tips at any time and they will be most helpful if you do all of them two or three times each day. 

Cold Packs

Applying cold packs to your jaw will reduce swelling and pain. Use ice only for the first two or three days to reduce swelling.

Warm compresses

After using the ice packs for two or three days, start using a hot towel or a hot water bag on the sore jaw several times each day to relax the muscles. 


 Rub your fingers in a circular motion over the areas of your jaw that are painful. Do this for about 30 seconds at a time. 

Stretch your mouth

Open your mouth as wide as you can without pain and hold it for a few seconds. This is important because not opening it as wide as you can may lead to a permanent limitation called chronic trismus. Another exercise is to take your thumb and push on your upper teeth and use your index finger on your other hand to push down on your lower jaw. Doing this stretching exercise multiple times in the day will help you overcome the limitations of your jaw. You can also move your jaw gently to the left and then right, and hold it for a few seconds with each movement.

Physical Therapy 

In cases where the opening of your jaw is more limited, you may need to get physical therapy. Therapists can help you with some equipment and exercises to open your jaws faster. Jaw stretching devices can help you recover and can increase the amount of jaw opening with regular use. 

When to Contact the Dentist

After wisdom tooth removal, there is a slight possibility that there may be some complications. You should contact the dentist if you see:

  • Signs of an infection
  • Have a high fever with chills
  • Have nausea or vomiting
  • Develop a cough or shortness of breath
  • Have chest pain.