This paper compares the beneficial and harmful effects of paracetamol, ibuprofen and the novel combination of both in a single tablet for pain relief following the surgical removal of lower wisdom teeth. In this systematic review only randomised controlled double-blinded clinical trials were included. We calculated the proportion of patients with at least 50% pain relief at 2 and 6 hours post dosing, along with the proportion of participants using rescue medication at 6 and 8 hours. Adverse events were also analysed. Data was meta-analysed where possible. Seven studies were included with a total of 2,241 participants enrolled. Ibuprofen 400 mg is superior to 1,000 mg paracetamol with a risk ratio for at least 50% pain relief at 6 hours of 1.47 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.28 to 1.69). For the combined drug, the risk ratio for at least 50% maximum pain relief over 6 hours is 1.77 (95% CI 1.32 to 2.39) based on total pain relief (TOTPAR) data. There is high quality evidence that ibuprofen is superior to paracetamol. The novel combination drug shows encouraging results when compared to the single drugs (based on two trials). © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.