Impacted Wisdom Teeth and TMJ Disorders
by Dr. Scott Bolding
You woke up this morning with an ache in your jaw. When you try to open your mouth it hurts. You struggle to eat throughout the day. Maybe it’s temporary, so you try not to worry about it.
But day after day, your jaw continues to hurt. And it seems to get worse as the week goes on. Finally, you’ve had enough. You need to find some relief.
You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with your jaw joint, maybe you have a TMJ disorder. However, you also know that your wisdom teeth are starting to come in. Is it possible that they’re causing your pain? You wonder if there’s a difference between wisdom teeth and TMJ disorders.
Since wisdom teeth and TMJ disorders can both cause jaw pain, it’s important to understand how they’re related as well as how they’re different. This will make it easier for you to talk to your dentist and get the help you need.
What is a TMJ Disorder?TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It’s the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. The TMJ is just like the other joints in your body and can break down or get damaged. When that happens you have a TMJ disorder. TMJ disorders can be painful. They keep you from eating the foods you love. More severe cases can keep you in pain that takes you away from your life. TMJ pain can be mild and easy to treat. But if you don’t take care of your joint the damage can get worse.
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Finding the right treatment depends on the cause. TMJ disorders can happen for a number of reasons including:
Ultimately, TMJ disorders happen when there is damage to the joint. If the joint is overworked or the disc in the joint is displaced you will feel pain.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last teeth to come into your mouth. They’re called wisdom teeth because they come in when you’re between 17-21 years old. You usually have four wisdom teeth, two on top and two on the bottom.
Wisdom teeth don’t always cause problems, but they do when they become impacted. Impacted wisdom teeth happen when they don’t grow into your mouth properly. This can happen because they don’t have enough room in your mouth. So they try to come in at different angles which put a strain on your mouth.
Can Wisdom Teeth Cause TMJ Disorders?
You may wonder, can wisdom teeth cause TMJ disorders?
The answer is, yes but rarely.
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain in your jaw joint. Most of the time, however, impacted wisdom teeth don’t cause TMJ disorders. Since the wisdom teeth are located in the back of your mouth the pain may seem like it’s coming from the jaw. But that doesn’t mean the jaw is actually affected.
However, sometimes impacted wisdom teeth can cause a TMJ disorder. This usually happens when the wisdom teeth push your other teeth out of the way. This causes misalignment. When your teeth aren’t aligned properly your jaw has to work harder to chew food. Over time the joint can wear down, leading to a TMJ disorder.
So, wisdom teeth don’t directly cause TMJ disorders. But they can put things in motion that eventually damage your jaw joint.
How Do to Know the Difference Between Impacted Wisdom Teeth and TMJ Disorders?
When your jaw starts to hurt it can be hard to know what the problem is. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to get a dentist to look at your teeth and jaw. They will examine your mouth and jaw to see if there’s a connection between your wisdom teeth and a TMJ disorder.
But it’s also helpful to know how to tell the difference between TMJ disorders and wisdom teeth on your own. This way you can have an idea of what you’re dealing with before you talk to your dentist. This will save time and make it easier for your dentist to know where to start.
Even though wisdom teeth and TMJ disorders both have jaw joint pain as symptoms, there are a few symptoms that are unique to each one.
Other symptoms of TMJ disorders are:
- Ear pain
- Clicking noises in the jaw joint
- Headaches and migraines
Along with pain in your jaw, symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth include
- Red or swollen gums
- Bleeding gums
- Bad breath
When determining whether impacted wisdom teeth or a TMJ disorder are causing your jaw pain, check to see if you have any of these other symptoms. Before you make an appointment start keeping track of your other symptoms. Write them down in a notebook so you can share them with your dentist. This will help them know where to start when examining your mouth.
How Do I Treat a TMJ Disorder Caused by Wisdom Teeth?
If we determine that wisdom teeth are part of the problem, we will work on extracting those first. Then we will work on realigning your teeth.
- OTC pain medication
- Resting the joint
- Heat/Ice Therapy
More severe damage may require mouth guards or TMJ surgery.
Is It Wisdom Teeth or a TMJ Disorder?
Get to the Bottom of Your Jaw Pain
When you have jaw joint pain, you want to find a solution right away. Pain in the jaw can make it hard for you to eat the things you love and just enjoy your life.
The only way to find relief is to figure out why your jaw joint is hurting. It may be due to your wisdom teeth coming in and pushing the other teeth out of the way. Or it may be a TMJ disorder. Either way, you need to talk to a dentist who can help you determine the root cause, so you can get the help you need.
Learn more about TMJ Disorders in our TMJ Center.