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Wisdom Teeth Doesn't Cause Jaw Popping

It's physically impossible for the wisdom teeth to cause jaw popping because it's not connected to the TMJ complex so it has no effect on it. Then there is also the fact that third molars are not one of the etiologies for causing popping sounds in your jaw.

TMJ complex diagram

Jaw popping is a result of anterior disc displacement with reduction, which is a type of internal derangement of the TMJ (temporomandibular joint).

In other words it is a joint disorder and NOT a tooth disorder.

Why is my jaw popping?

The presence of wisdom teeth has no correlation with your jaw popping because the root cause stems from internal derangement of the TMJ. That means there is an abnormal relationship among the components within the temporomandibular joint capsule.

There are many types of internal derangements but the most common, is a result of anterior disc displacement with reduction (ADDWR).

Studies have shown that jaw clicking or popping have consistently shown ADDWR. In fact the clicking can even be used as an indicator of anteriorly displaced discs in the capsule.

Anterior disc displacement schematic diagram
Anterior disc displacement - Credit: Credit: K Ikeda and A Kawamura

Why it makes a popping sound: The sound comes from the articular disc being displaced anteriorly to where they normally should be. In a healthy TMJ, the disc sits superior to the mandibular condyle and moves with it as the jaw opens and closes. However in ADDWR, the condyle has to glide over the disc upon mouth opening and that is when the jaw pop occurs.

Here is a video for visual aid in how the clicking sound occurs:

The jaw popping sound is a result of the condyle having to slide over the posterior portion of the disc. That is forced to happen if the disc gets displaced anterior to the condylar head.

In a healthy TMJ with no internal derangement, the disc is positioned above the condyle and moves with it. Since it glides with it for all of the movements, there is no clicking or popping at all. It is akin to shock absorbers in a car.

Wisdom teeth doesn't affect the TMJ

Hopefully you now understand that the popping noise is from the jaw opening and having to glide over the articular disc. It is 100% a problem with your temporomandibular joint. That means the wisdom teeth have no overbearing effect on the jaw popping at all because it is not associated with the TMJ.

TMJ associated structures:

  • TMJ muscles - lateral pterygoid, medial pterygoid, temporalis, masseter

  • Mandibular fossa of the temporal bone

  • Condylar head of mandible

  • Articular disc

As you can see, the third molars is NOT a part of the associated structures.

Where third molars are attached to:

  • Upper wisdom teeth. Located on the maxilla which is not one of the bones that are associated with the TMJ.

  • Lower wisdom teeth. Located in the body of the mandible which is at the opposite end of the condyle.

Location of TMJ and wisdom teeth x-ray
Location of TMJ and wisdom teeth

The wisdom teeth are not even near where the jaw popping is located so it is physically impossible for them to have an effect on it.

Can wisdom teeth cause other TMJ symptoms?

They may not cause jaw clicking or jaw popping but other TMJ symptoms are possible such as jaw pain or locked jaw (trismus).

Jaw pain from third molars

Your wisdom teeth can often cause diffuse pain in your jaw that is a lot more generalized than localized. This is more common in third molars that are impacted rather than fully erupted ones.

Impacted third molar
Impacted third molar

Patients are typically able to locate the pain more readily when the tooth is fully erupted. However for the ones that are still stuck in the bone or gums, they may not be able to figure out where the source of the pain is.

What makes it worse is that you can sometimes get "referred pain" from the impacted teeth. The impacted upper wisdom teeth can sometimes cause you to feel pain up to your eye or even to the back of your head. The impacted lower wisdom teeth can refer pain to your ear or even down your neck.

What typically happens is that these patients come in and they have pain everywhere. They can't really pinpoint exactly where it is coming from aside from that fact that it is "jaw pain". Sometimes they may point to random teeth and the dentist will test them but find nothing out of the ordinary.

Nonetheless, due to the process of elimination... it must be the impacted wisdom teeth. That usually ends up being true because those are literally the only teeth that your dentist can't test because they're still stuck in the jaw bone.

Locked jaw from third molars

Wisdom teeth can become severely inflamed or infected from time to time, especially if they are partially or fully impacted. Once they do swell up it is always accompanied by severe pain. Sometimes the swelling can get so bad that it can induce lock jaw where you're not able to open your mouth all the way.

bony impacted third molar
bony impacted third molar

Having a locked jaw is similar to a TMJ disorder (TMD) called disc displacement without reduction. In that condition, you're not able to open your jaw all the way or only in a very limited motion.

That condition is very similar to the one from having severely inflamed wisdom teeth. However their causes are completely different because one is a joint problem while the other one is a tooth problem.

Their treatments also differ because for the wisdom teeth induced locked jaw, it can be permanently cured by simply removing the wisdom teeth along with taking antibiotics. Although if you try to remove the wisdom teeth for locked jaw from TMD, there will be zero alleviation of the symptoms. The locked jaw will remain despite getting the impacted teeth out!

That is why it is important to identify what is the exact cause for all of your symptoms, hence why proper diagnosis is key to providing the correct treatment.

What should you do if you have jaw popping?

If your jaw is popping, the first thing you should suspect is not your wisdom teeth. You should get a TMJ consultation.

That popping sound is most likely due to the fact that your articular disc has been displaced anteriorly but it is reducing on its own. Most of the time, non-surgical treatment will suffice such as patient education, physical therapy, and occlusal splint fabrication.

Nonetheless, it is still not a bad idea to have your wisdom teeth removed since you don't chew with them and they're prone to infections. If you already have them removed, it eliminates them as suspects whenever you have inexplicable jaw pain!



David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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