Can wisdom teeth cause TMJ? (Explained)

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is that junction in your mouth that helps you chew and move your jaws up and down. It is located on each side of the head, just in front of your ears. 

Damage to the TMJ can be quite burdensome as the pain associated with that region may vary from mild to severe. 

While there are many controversies surrounding wisdom teeth, some have blamed the 3rd molar for the frequent problems with their jaw.

Admittedly, impacted wisdom teeth can cause TMJ problems, but this is a rare cause of TMJ disorders.

This article explains everything you should know about wisdom teeth and TMJ. 

What is TMJ disorder?

Temporomandibular disorders affect the TMJ and tissues associated with them, including the muscles and blood vessels, causing pain and restricted movement in the jaw. 

Otitis Media: Acute and Chronic Oti...
Otitis Media: Acute and Chronic Otitis Media | Health Solution

The condition is much more likely due to muscle strains, malocclusions, or damage to the jaw arising from physical injury, infections, aging, and arthritis, amongst others. 

How do wisdom teeth affect the TMJ?

Pain from wisdom teeth can cause aches in the jaw that radiate to the ear and other areas in the face, causing TMJ disorders. 

As explained in a previous article about wisdom teeth and migraine, the human jaw is not wide enough for the third set of molars to grow. Thus, wisdom teeth struggle to erupt properly, straining the jaw and neighbor molars. It is this pressure that may result in TMJ dysfunction. 

Symptoms of an affected TMJ

TMJ disorders are usually self-diagnosable. Some of its symptoms are:

  • Pain or tenderness of the jaw
  • Aching pain in and around your ear
  • Difficulty chewing 
  • Inability to open the mouth wide
  • Swelling on the side of the face
  • Pain in the facial muscles
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Toothaches
  • A clicking sound or grating sensation when you chew or open your mouth
  • A misaligned bite 

How do I know my TMJ pain is caused by wisdom teeth?

The best way to determine if your TMJ pain is because of growing wisdom teeth is to have your mouth, face, and TMJ examined by a health professional. X-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs will most likely be used to arrive at a conclusion. 

To avoid these, many people extract their wisdom teeth preventively.

Treatment of TMJ disorders

Usually, the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction will go away without treatment after a couple of weeks or months. 

In any case, you can use one or more of these approaches to get your TMJ functioning properly again.

Medications

NSAIDs like Ibuprofen can be effective in relieving TMJ pain. If there are no improvements, your doctor may prescribe other medications such as

  • Tricyclic antidepressants. E.g., Amitriptyline
  • Opioids
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Muscle relaxants

Therapies

  • Using soft or firm devices like oral splints can help reduce TMJ pain. 
  • Stretching and massage, including jaw stretching exercises and ice packs. 
  • Applying moist heat or ice to the affected side may help alleviate pain. 

Surgical procedures, such as

  • Arthrocentesis
  • TMJ implants
  • Botox

Can wisdom teeth removal make TMJ worse?

Having a wisdom teeth extraction with an affected TMJ can be pretty painful. This is because the dentist must open the patient’s mouth wide to reach the teeth at the back corner of the mouth. 

As earlier explained, TMJ disorders cause stiffening of the jaws, making it difficult for patients to open their jaws more than 35mm. Therefore, in the case of wisdom teeth extraction, the patient suffers more discomfort than usual due to prolonged opening of the jaw. 

However, your TMJ should improve a couple of weeks after the surgery, and the pain will disappear.

Should you have your wisdom teeth removed?

If your wisdom teeth are responsible for your TMJ disorder, it may be best to extract them. Consult with an oral surgeon for the procedures, risks, and benefits. 

Exercises to relieve TMJ pain caused by wisdom teeth

The following are jaw exercises that may help improve TMJ mobility:

Chin tucks

  • Stand tall against a wall
  • Pull your chin in to create a double chin
  • Hold for three seconds, then repeat.

Mouth resistance

  • Place a thumb under your chin. 
  • Apply pressure to your chin while opening your mouth, 
  • Hold for five seconds before closing your mouth

Mandibular stabilization exercise

  • Keep the jaw in a neutral position.
  • Using your thumb, push the jaw to the right and hold for three seconds. 
  • Repeat on the left side.

Front-to-back, side-to-side jaw movements

  • Put an object, such as a wooden craft stick, between your upper and lower jaw, just in front of your mouth.
  • Slowly thrust your bottom jaw forward so the bottom teeth are in front of the top teeth.
  • Move your jaw from side to side with the object between your teeth.
  • Increase the thickness of the object as your jaw gets flexible.

Tongue up

  • Move your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth.
  • Gently open and close the mouth.
  • Do five reps.

Helpful tips to help manage TMJ pain caused by wisdom teeth

  • Avoid overuse of jaw muscles.
  • Eat soft meals till the joint heals.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles to avoid irritating your jaw gums.
  • Avoid chewing gums or hard candies.
  • Avoid sleeping on the affected side.
  • Invest in a water flosser to ease teeth washing.
  • Avoid biting of nails or pencil tops.
  • Use mouthguards to prevent jaw clenching and realign the jaw.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can wisdom teeth cause TMJ pains?

Impacted wisdom teeth may cause pain that may be very similar to that described by patients with the true temporomandibular joint disorder. 

Can wisdom teeth removal help TMJ?

If wisdom teeth cause your TMJ disorder, extracting the third molars will significantly improve the condition.

Does TMJ pain go away?

Pain caused by TMJ disorder will typically disappear on its own. But, this is not the case for everyone.

Conclusion 

You probably have a TMJ disorder if your jaws hurt and you can’t move them freely. The wisdom teeth are not the root cause of TMJ disorders but could contribute to jaw or TMJ pain.