Wisdom teeth -- also called third molars -- are teeth in the back of your jaw that emerge during your late teens and mid 20s. Many times there is not enough room for these teeth to fit comfortably in your jaw. Wisdom teeth may not fully emerge, or may crowd nearby teeth, often leading to jaw pain.
Some wisdom teeth become impacted as they try to erupt. An impacted wisdom tooth is one that fails to fully break through the surface of your gums. The tooth may remain completely below your gum line, break partially through or grow in the wrong direction toward a neighboring tooth. A wisdom tooth can become impacted if you have a small jaw where there is not enough room for the tooth to fit.
An impacted wisdom tooth can cause pain in the affected tooth and in your jaw. It can also lead to other problems such as infection or gum disease. An impacted wisdom tooth that has only partially emerged can trap food and plaque particles around your tooth and gums, causing a bacterial infection. An impacted wisdom tooth that grows in the wrong direction may push against a neighboring tooth and misalign your bite or damage your teeth. You may also develop a fluid-filled sac called a cyst near the impacted wisdom tooth.
Wisdom tooth and jaw pain may indicate that one or more of your impacted wisdom teeth need to be extracted. Before the extraction procedure, the dentist will either numb your mouth and jaw with a local anesthetic or use sedation anesthesia to make you comfortable. An incision is made in your gums and the affected teeth are removed. After this procedure your dentist will give you instructions for follow-up care.
There are several potential risks associated with having a wisdom tooth extracted to relieve tooth and jaw pain. One such risk is the possibility of nerve damage. If a nerve is damaged during the procedure, the sensation in your tongue, chin or bottom lip may become altered. There is also a risk that the bone in your affected tooth socket may remain exposed once the tooth has been removed.
There are a number of things that you can do at home to get some relief from wisdom tooth and jaw pain. If cleared by your dentist, you may take over-the-counter pain medications to ease some of the pain. Placing an ice pack on your jaw will numb the area and help to reduce swelling. Also, try to avoid eating hard foods that require you to place pressure on your tooth and jaws.