Tooth pain can mean so many different things. How can you tell whether the soreness at the back of your mouth is due to something casual, or something serious like an impacted wisdom tooth?
When you’ve got an ache in your jaw, there are a few things to look for to identify a problematic wisdom tooth. If you’re an adult with wisdom teeth, or if you’re at the age when wisdom teeth typically erupt, you can options that will help you get more comfortable and avoid future problems. But the first step is getting in touch with a professional and learning more about your own mouth.
Check out some universal guidelines below, and schedule a consultation to meet with one of our providers.
Danger Zone: When Wisdom Teeth Typically Erupt
The time frame when wisdom teeth typically pop up is actually indicated by their nickname. These teeth are technically known as third molars, but the “wisdom teeth” moniker was applied because the teeth erupt between the ages of 17-21 for most patients. This is because we theoretically get wiser at this point in our lives, although that varies from person to person!
Wisdom teeth erupt after the body has mostly finished its development. Suddenly having new teeth at the back of your mouth can come as an unpleasant surprise – especially if your other teeth are already crowded. This is one reason why dentists typically recommend that patients take a preventive approach to their wisdom teeth. Teenagers should have x-rays taken so that they can get an idea of whether their third molars could be an issue.
Of course, this isn’t always what ends up happening. Whether due to missed exams or financial concerns, some teens don’t have wisdom teeth removed although they could become a problem in the future. If you’re an adult that still possesses their wisdom teeth, don’t stress – and keep reading. There are still options available to you.
When Should Wisdom Teeth be Extracted?
Once wisdom teeth have erupted, extraction is typically better to schedule sooner rather than later. This is because the procedure can be less complicated at a younger age, since the teeth and jaws have not completely finished developing. Younger patients also typically heal faster.
Patients can have anywhere from 1-4 wisdom teeth – and some even have more than that. The average number is four teeth. Experts aren’t sure why the number of teeth varies from person to person – but if you need extractions, fewer means an easier time.
That said, if you didn’t get your teeth extracted in your teens, you have still have them extracted. The symptoms below will give you an idea of whether your third molars could be causing issues.
Symptoms to Watch For if You Have Wisdom Teeth
We’ve referred to “problematic” wisdom teeth a few times. This is because all wisdom teeth are not inherently bad. Depending on your jaw structure and tooth alignment, your wisdom teeth might be completely fine and not cause any issues with your other teeth or your oral health. But third molars are commonly the sources of larger dental problems – more on that in a moment.
If you have your wisdom teeth and aren’t sure if they’re going to be an issue, check for the symptoms below. Third molars are difficult to examine at home because they’re in the back of your mouth, and yours may not be fully erupted. Use a flashlight or your cell phone flashlight to light the back of your mouth so that you can do a scan for some of the visual symptoms.
- Bleeding gums
- Jaw pain
- Swelling of your jaw or jaw joint
- Dark or white spots on your wisdom teeth
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Difficulty completing routine tasks like chewing, biting or opening your mouth
Why Wisdom Teeth Can Cause Big Problems
All of your molars are prone to more dental problems than the other teeth in your mouth – for a few reasons. One, their surfaces tend to have more cracks and fissures than your incisors, which create welcome spaces for decay. Two, they’re harder to clean when you’re brushing and flossing because you have to strain to reach the back of your mouth. If your wisdom teeth have only partially erupted (only partly visible in the mouth), your gums also make it tougher for you to clean them thoroughly.
Another issue is that our jaws have evolved past our wisdom teeth – but the teeth still remain. The human jaw has shrunk in size over centuries, but many of us are still growing full sets of third molars. Because there’s no longer enough room in the jaw, those teeth can become easily impacted, blocked by adjacent teeth, or stuck in the gums. When third molars continue to erupt in spite of insufficient space, they can press against adjacent teeth and disrupt your bite.
Wisdom teeth may also erupt at unhealthy angles, being angled toward the second molars, back of the mouth, at a right angle to adjacent teeth, or correctly (straight up and down) but stay trapped in the jaw.
If your wisdom teeth are problematic, they may eventually cause
- Damage to other teeth
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Jaw problems
If you think your wisdom teeth could use professional attention, schedule a consultation today.