Updated: Oct 14
It feels as if you're having a toothache but you just had a dental check up recently. Your dentist didn't find any cavities so what could be the possible cause for this jaw pain?
Then all of a sudden you remembered that you never had your wisdom teeth removed yet. Could it be the first of signs for your wisdom teeth that are about to come in?
That is certainly a possibility if you never had the third molars removed nor have they come in yet. Perhaps they're trying to erupt through the gums right now and that is why you're having pain. Nonetheless, we'll go over what you should look out for so that you know what to expect and what you should do.
Signs of wisdom teeth coming in:
There is a hole in the gums behind the molar
A tell tale sign that your wisdom tooth is coming in is if you notice a small hole in the gums right behind the last molar. That's right, it is literally a tiny hole in your gums. If you're able to touch it or poke it, it'll actually feel hard because what you're feeling is the enamel of your wisdom tooth that is trying to come in.
You may not be able to see into this hole too clearly in your bathroom mirror but you certainly can in our picture. What is inside of that hole certainly looks like a piece of your third molar doesn't it?
What it looks like
Small hole in the gums
Gums may be reddish or whitish
Could be bleeding a little bit
White colored object inside the hole
Below is a picture of a slightly bigger hole than the photo above. That is what it looks like if you give it more time for the wisdom tooth to erupt. You'll see more and more of the tooth. That is assuming it is not completely impacted!
What it feels like
Soreness or tenderness
May feel a little swollen
If you run your finger over it, it'll be hard
Precautions - What to look out for
What often happens when you get a hole in the gums behind the molar like this, is that it'll swell up from time to time. The swelling is due to the small opening which has a tendency to trap food and plaque. If you're not able to keep this tiny hole free of foreign debris, it will swell up from the inflammation.
That inflamed swelling is what usually causes people discomfort. Fortunately, its short lasting because most people manage to dislodge whatever was stuck in the hole after a few days. If they couldn't they would've seen a dentist who would've helped them along.
Swelling of the gums behind the second molar
Another potential sign of the wisdom teeth coming in is if the gums behind the second molar become swollen. This could be an even earlier indication of erupting wisdom teeth, meaning it is the stage before having a hole in the gums. It precedes that and is therefore one of the earliest signs but it is not a tell tale sign.
Here is a dental x-ray of what a sideways fully impacted lower wisdom tooth looks like:
One of the ways that you can get swollen gums behind the last molar without a hole is if your wisdom tooth happens to be impacted like in the x-ray above. Since it is trying to erupt sideways or forward into the second molar, it will never be able to erupt out of the gums. For that reason alone, you will never have a small hole in the gums behind that molar.
What it looks like:
Swollen gums behind the last molar
Gums look red and poofy
However, what you will still experience is the gums becoming swollen since it still covers above the impacted tooth.
A fortunate side effect of this is that it won't swell up from food being stuck in the hole since there is no hole. Whenever it causes you pain it is mostly either due to bacterial origins or the tooth trying to move.
Inexplicable jaw pain
There are times where you may be having unbearable jaw pain but everything in your mouth looks normal and that could be a sign it is your third molars coming in. The conclusion is arrived via the process of elimination.
If your dentist is not able to find anything wrong with your teeth or your mouth, one of the few possible reasons that are left would be impacted wisdom teeth. For instance this is what your dentist would have to rule out first before coming to that conclusion:
Soft tissue lesions and oral pathology
TMJ muscle pain
Tooth nerve pain
If your dentist has literally examined every nook and cranny of your mouth and could not find any faults in any of the above, it must be something that he can't see. What he can't see would be fully impacted wisdom teeth that are still stuck in the bone that have yet to erupt.
Basically what it looks like is that everything in the mouth looks normal. This is because everything above the gum line are in fact normal. The pain is being caused by something below the visible gums.
Cause of the pain
The initial descriptor may have been inexplicable jaw pain but if it does happen to come from impacted wisdom teeth, there is an explanation for it. Usually this type of pain is a result of the impacted teeth trying to move.
Meaning it is trying to erupt but since it is being blocked by the tooth in front, it is unable to do so. What you'll feel is the pain and pressure from it pushing on the tooth that is blocking its path of eruption.
What it'll feel like generalized jaw pain but you can't really pinpoint where it is coming from. The only distinct feeling is that the entire side of where the impacted tooth is located will be painful.
Just so that we're clear, not all of your wisdom teeth have to be impacted. It could be just one or two of them. Therefore, you wouldn't have pain in your entire mouth It is mostly just the affected side that will cause pain. This type of jaw pain is contained to one side of your mouth.
Related content: There could be other things that can cause jaw pain on just one side. Learn more about it with our other article here.
Trismus - Inability to open jaw wide
The wisdom teeth can become so inflamed and swollen that it gives you trismus. This condition will limit your jaw opening which stems from severe inflammation that affect your TMJ muscles which control the opening and closing of your jaw.
Usually if you present to the dentist with an inability to open wide from wisdom teeth pain, there is a good chance they may not be able to extract them that day. If you can't open wide enough for your dentist to numb your mouth, it is physically impossible for your dentist to even work on you.
What will have to happen is your dentist will send you home with anti-inflammatories and medication to get that inflammation down. Once it has gone down enough and you can at least open wide enough for the wisdom tooth removal procedure, you can return to your dentist.
How to reduce inflammation for wisdom teeth induced trismus:
Take ibuprofen which is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory). It'll help with pain as well as inflammation.
Your dentist may give you antibiotics as well because some of the symptoms may be from a bacterial infection around the impacted tooth.
Cold compress - use it by alternating 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off.
Jaw exercises by trying to gently stretch it open a few times a day.
Typically after about a day or two of following the protocol above, your condition should improve. You'll notice that you'll be able to open your jaw more and more. Once you can open it again, it is time to go back to your dentist for your procedure.
Bad taste in mouth
Having a bad taste in your mouth could be a potential sign of the wisdom teeth coming in. It is highly plausible because wisdom teeth tend to come in impacted. This means that they're partially erupted through the gums and that extra gum covering the tooth is prone to trapping food and plaque.
We call that extra gum a gum flap. That flap of gum is very loose and is prone to getting inflamed and swollen. It is quite easy for small pieces of food to get stuck underneath of the flap. Whenever that happens and you can't get the food out, it will start to swell up over the next day or two.
What to do about it
The definitive treatment for this type of condition would be to extract the tooth. That would permanently solve the problem.
However, if you're not willing to take out the tooth, that gum flap can be removed via an operculectomy. This is a procedure where your dentist just cuts off the flap that is over the wisdom tooth but leaves the wisdom tooth otherwise intact.
What you should be aware of is that there is a possible chance for recurrence with the procedure. There have been cases where it does return... If that happens to you, you should resort to the more permanent solution of just extracting the entire tooth.
Bad breath is often an accompanying symptom with a bad taste in your mouth for the wisdom teeth that are coming in. The source or origin of it is the same in that they result from food or plaque that is trapped in the gums of impacted wisdom teeth.
As you can imagine, if your tooth is impacted and there is a flap of gum covering it. It makes it incredibly prone for food to get stuck underneath it. If you're unable to cleanse the area and remove the food, it will start to ferment and that is what will contribute to the bad breath.
It makes sense if you think about it because all food that is left out even on the table will start to rot. it will ferment and develop an unpleasant smell. Now imagine the same thing happening inside of your mouth if you have food from 7 days ago that you never removed. What would it smell like?
What you should do about it
The bare minimum that you should do if you're experiencing signs of your wisdom teeth coming in is to get a dental consultation. It would be prudent to know the status of what your teeth are in. Are they going to erupt fully upright or are they impacted?
Depending on the answer to that, you may or may not need to proceed with treatment. Usually for teeth that will erupt straight, you may not need to have them removed. Straight teeth don't cause long term problems.
Impacted teeth on the other hand do cause problems since they're not able to erupt fully. They often become a source for food and plaque trap that results in chronic gum inflammation. It will swell up from time to time whenever it happens. Basically it is a perpetual annoyance that you should probably address.
Unfortunately the only treatment for impacted teeth is to have them removed. Yes, that means you'll need a wisdom tooth extraction. Once you get that tooth pulled, all of the symptoms that you've been experiencing should subside after it heals.
Palliative care and home remedies
Nonetheless, we understand that not everyone is ready to have their wisdom teeth taken out. In that case, there are palliative treatments and certain home remedies that you can try to help alleviate the pain.
What these remedies will do is to help you get past the inflammation and swelling. It will temporarily make the problems go away. Although you can be sure that it WILL return at a later date once again to cause you suffering. That is simply the nature of how wisdom teeth are, they will keep coming and going until you permanently get rid of them.
You can have your dentist clean out the impacted wisdom tooth area by flushing it out.
Your dentist can also prescribe you antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to alleviate some of the pain/swelling.
Use a medicated mouth rinse to help the gums recover.
Mouth rinses - use salt water, listerine, hydrogen peroxide, or natural rinses
Cold compress - use it 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off, alternating and repeating as many times as necessary.
Brushing and flossing - if food is the cause of the inflammation, it would behoove you to try to keep your teeth as clean as possible!
Water flossing - if you have a water flosser, it may work wonders for cleaning under the gum flap of your wisdom tooth.
There are other natural home remedies which you can try. Some common ones are oregano oil, cloves, and etc. It doesn't hurt to try them but just be aware that none of them are permanent solutions. It may temporarily offer you pain relief but that is about it.
Our recommendation is and always will be to just see your dentist and have the tooth extracted. It'll save you a lot of time and future suffering since you'll be solving the problem once and for all. I mean, who has time to keep playing around with their wisdom teeth? We don't.
If you're looking for wisdom teeth removal in Long Island City, NY our office is able to help you. We can do it for you on the spot if they're severely impacted. If they are, we'll need to give you a referral for the oral surgeon.