Jaw Pain Can Be a Signal That Wisdom Teeth Are Coming In

jaw pain from wisdom teeth
As wisdom teeth emerge, they often bring along a whole series of problems. Some discomfort or pain near the tooth that can spread to other facial areas, like the ears, joints, and jaws, is not uncommon.

However, not everything in the mouth and body can be attributed to wisdom teeth. Jaw pain can be a signal for various other oral and facial conditions.

In this article, we will demystify what can be seen as "normal" and "abnormal" regarding wisdom teeth eruption and their connection to jaw pain.

Tingling or pain in the jaws can be a sign that wisdom teeth are on their way

You may be familiar with teething in babies when the first teeth break through their gums. This can be a hard time for them, with symptoms such as pain, sore gums, and even fever.

Similarly, wisdom teeth have their own way of announcing their arrival. When your wisdom teeth move in, you might notice different sensations in your gums, mouth, and jaws. Once they break through the gum, the surrounding area may become red, swollen, and tender.

So, feeling pain or a tingling sensation in your jaws can be a normal sign that your wisdom teeth are coming in.

However, everyone's experience with wisdom teeth is unique—some go through the process without feeling a thing, while for others, it's the opposite.

Now, how do you know if your jaw pain is coming from your wisdom teeth?

It's important to know that wisdom teeth don't grow consistently; they come in waves. These waves consist of periods of activity when the teeth are actively moving within the jawbone and periods of rest (when they are not moving).

So, if your wisdom teeth are causing some discomfort during their growth, it's usually a mild sensation that comes and goes, occurring only during periods of activity. Once the teeth have grown into their final position, the pain will go away.

On the other hand, constant or strong pain might signal a more serious issue like an infection, not just the regular growth process. This often happens when there isn't enough room for wisdom teeth to settle properly.

The different positions of impacted wisdom teeth

The different positions of impacted wisdom teeth

Where does the pain from wisdom teeth show up?

Wisdom teeth grow in nerve-rich areas. As they come in, they might rub against these nerves, causing different feelings like tingling, pressure, or pain. Usually, the pain stays near the wisdom teeth, but it can spread to other places.

In most of your mouth and face, sensory nerves that feel things like temperature and pain come together to converge into one major nerve called the trigeminal nerve.

Because of how these nerves work together, wisdom teeth pain can sometimes spread to other areas like the back of the mouth, joints, ears, and upper and lower jaws.

Pain from wisdom teeth may reveal a more serious underlying complication

While well-positioned wisdom teeth may never pose a problem, when they are out of place, they can trigger a series of issues. This is particularly true when wisdom teeth are tilted or impacted (stuck in the jawbone).


Pericoronitis is a fancy way of saying inflammation of the gum tissue that covers a partially erupted tooth. It's one of the most common complications associated with wisdom teeth.
Pericoronitis: inflammation of the gums covering a partially erupted wisdom tooth
When the wisdom tooth has just partially appeared in the mouth, an open gap may form between the tooth and gum, becoming a haven for food and bacteria. This results in painful, red, and swollen gums. Swelling can be so pronounced that it nearly conceals the tooth, and sometimes pressing on it can cause a reddish liquid to ooze out.

Following this first episode, the problem may resolve if the tooth properly erupts and settles. However, it can evolve into a more severe infection.

When pericoronitis worsens, the pain becomes more intense and spreads to the face, and can even keep you awake at night. Difficulty chewing, swallowing, and opening the mouth are also common. These may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

If left untreated, the infection can spread further, reaching the face or jawbone.

Damage to Nearby Tooth

Wisdom tooth growing sideways, damaging the adjacent second molar, with x-rays
When a wisdom tooth is tilted towards the neighboring tooth (2nd molar), it can push against it and damage it. This pressure may lead to the formation of a cavity or, in the worst-case scenario, eat away at its roots, eventually causing tooth loss.

This process can go unnoticed, showing no symptoms. However, at times, it might induce a sensation of jaw pressure, as if something is squeezing your teeth.

Cheek Biting

This happens when the chewing surface of a wisdom tooth is pointing towards the cheek. In such cases, the sharp edges of the tooth may constantly bite or cut into the cheek, resulting in injuries like ulcers or lacerations.

Chronic, mild irritation can lead to the development of white hyperkeratinization spots. These spots are the body's way of defending against ongoing and persistent damage.

Cysts and Tumors

While less common, the occurrence of cysts and tumors is a possibility and can be serious if overlooked.

As wisdom teeth grow within the jawbone, they may be coated by a fluid-filled sac called a cyst. In rare instances, a tumor, typically benign, could also form around the tooth.

Initially, you might not notice anything unusual, as the condition is often asymptomatic. However, as the growth increases in volume and size, it can harm your jawbone and teeth, potentially leading to facial deformities.

Wisdom teeth are not always the culprits

It's not always wisdom teeth causing face or jaw pain. Various oral and facial issues can share the same symptoms. Here are a few of them:

Tooth Infection

How toothache can spread to the jaws and face

How toothache can spread to the jaws and face

Dental infections often result from untreated tooth decay. As decay deepens and eats away at the hard tissues (enamel and dentin), it reaches the tooth's center (the pulp). An intense inflammatory reaction is triggered, resulting in a condition called pulpitis.

Pulpitis can lead to a strong, throbbing toothache that spreads to the face. The pain is often tricky to pinpoint, making it difficult to identify the affected tooth. It might seem like it's coming from elsewhere, like other teeth, jaws, or joints.

Neglecting pulpitis can let the infection spread, leading to an abscess. If you think you have an infected tooth, don't put off treatment, as it may get serious over time.

Symptoms of Dental Infections:

  • Constant, intense toothache spreading to other parts of the face

  • Swelling of the gums or face

  • Pain worsening with biting pressure or exposure to hot, cold, or sweet foods

  • Unpleasant breath and taste in your mouth

  • A light yellow liquid (pus) leaking from the gums

Temporomandibular Disorders (TMDs)

How Temporomandibular Disorders can spread to the face and jaws

How pain caused by TMDs can spread to the face and jaws

TMDs include conditions affecting the joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull and the muscles you use for chewing. Causes include direct joint impact, poor lower jaw posture, stress, and habits like teeth grinding.

When TMDs cause pain, it's usually a dull ache felt in the jaw, joints, and surrounding muscles. The discomfort may become more noticeable when you move your jaw, like when speaking or chewing. This pain can extend to other areas, leading to headaches, facial pain, and neck discomfort.

Symptoms of TMDs:

  • Difficulty fully opening your mouth

  • Cracking or popping sounds in the joints when you open your mouth

  • A dull ache spreading to the face and neck

  • Pain intensifying during jaw movement

  • Headaches

Infection of the Maxillary Sinuses

The way sinusitis pain can spread to areas of the face

How sinusitis pain can spread to facial areas

The maxillary sinuses are bony cavities located on each side of the cheeks next to the nose. When they are infected, the result is a condition called sinusitis. Causes include viral or bacterial infections, allergies, foreign objects, or infections in the upper jaw's back teeth.

These sinus cavities are right above the upper back teeth, separated only by a thin layer of bone. Infections from these teeth can travel upward and affect the sinuses. Conversely, sinusitis can make pain seem like a toothache, spreading to the underlying teeth.

Sinusitis pain can extend to the upper jaw, eyes, and forehead, especially when changing posture or bending forward.

Symptoms of Sinusitis:

  • Stuffy nose

  • Runny nose and post-nasal drip

  • Pressure behind the eyes and around the cheeks and face

  • Toothaches and headaches

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal nerve branches off towards the lower jaw to give the inferior alveolar nerve and the ligual nerve

The lower branch of the trigeminal nerve

Trigeminal neuralgia, as the name suggests, is a disorder of the trigeminal nerve, responsible for sensations in most of the face and mouth. Something compresses or puts abnormal pressure on it, causing abnormal and intense pain. The lower face is often the most affected.

The pain is sudden, sharp, and stabbing, resembling an electric shock. It can last a few seconds to two minutes, occurring in periodic episodes.

Pain is often triggered by touching hypersensitive points on the face, known as "trigger points."


  • Recurring, stabbing pain like an electric shock

  • Pain mostly felt in the lower part of the face, near the jaws

  • Pain confined to one side of the face

  • Pain is triggered by touching specific spots on the face or activities like chewing, speaking, or brushing teeth.

These are just a few examples. Various other oral and facial conditions can cause jaw pain. If you're going through it, don't delay—schedule an appointment with your dentist. Further tests will help uncover the actual cause of the pain.

Should I have my wisdom tooth removed if it causes me jaw pain?

The only way to tell if your wisdom tooth is the culprit behind your jaw pain and whether or not it needs to be removed is to consult your dentist. A dental X-ray may be required to assess the tooth's position and direction, helping identify if it's the root cause of the pain and if potential issues are coming in the future.

In general, if wisdom teeth are symptom-free and unlikely to pose issues in the future, there's typically no need for extraction.

As we said before, discomfort in the gums, joints, or jaws can indicate the natural process of wisdom teeth emerging through the bone and gums. If these teeth have enough space, align correctly with the other teeth, and are well positioned, they might not lead to any issues. In such instances, all you can do is wait for your teeth to finish growing. The discomfort will fade away once they are properly positioned in your mouth.

However, when wisdom teeth are causing intense pain, are poorly positioned, and lack space to come in properly, they are more prone to causing problems like pushing against neighboring teeth or triggering infections down the line. In these situations, the best way to prevent such painful complications is to extract the tooth.

Another frequent scenario involves wisdom teeth completely embedded within the bone (fully impacted) yet showing no symptoms or causing any issues. In this case, the decision to extract or retain the tooth is largely up to you and your dentist by considering both the risks and benefits.

According to studies, between 30% and 60% of individuals who keep their asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth will eventually require extraction within 4 to 12 years.


If you're concerned about your wisdom tooth and think it's causing you jaw pain or discomfort of any kind, don't wait to schedule an appointment with your dentist to have those teeth checked.

Mild pain that comes and goes is often a sign of the natural growth process of these teeth. It's typically temporary and can be managed by salt-water mouth rinses, over-the-counter painkillers, and applying ice to the tender area. However, if the pain is intense and constant, it's more likely that a complication is developing.