If you’re a young adult and you’ve suddenly started experiencing recurring headaches, it could be wisdom teeth—even if you don’t see or feel them yet. Here’s what you should know about how wisdom teeth and headaches are related and how you can get relief.
The Basics on Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, usually begin to erupt in your late teens or early twenties. You’ll have two on the top arch and two on the bottom, each at the far back of your mouth. Although we’re not certain why young adults get wisdom teeth and what their purpose is, the best guess is that early humans would lose at least some molars during the teen years because of their diets and lack of dental care. The wisdom teeth were meant to replace these molars. Now, they’re superfluous and often patients don’t have room for them.
In your early teens, your wisdom teeth will slowly begin to move through your jawbone up into the gums before emerging through the gum line. Just like teething babies who fuss and feel uncomfortable, young adults often experience discomfort as the wisdom teeth erupt. Usually this discomfort comes in the form of headaches and jaw pain.
The good news is that once your wisdom teeth have fully erupted, your headaches should be alleviated.
When Wisdom Teeth Are Impacted
Sometimes, though, wisdom teeth never fully erupt. They may be partially or fully impacted. A partially impacted wisdom tooth doesn’t fully emerge from the gum tissue, while an impacted wisdom tooth doesn’t erupt at all. They may come in at an angle, get stuck in the jaw, or place pressure on other molars, causing them to shift in your mouth.
As you can imagine, this can cause a great deal of pain and unlike with fully erupted wisdom teeth, impacted wisdom teeth only get more painful with time. There’s simply not enough room for them in the mouth. Headaches caused by impacted wisdom teeth can be severe; although pain relievers, hot and cold therapy, and salt water rinses can provide some temporary relief, the only permanent solution is wisdom tooth extraction.
Why Wisdom Teeth Need to Be Extracted
In addition to the headaches caused by impacted wisdom teeth, they’re also susceptible to other dental issues. Their location at the back of the mouth leaves them at risk for tooth decay and gum disease. Cysts can form in the jawbone and impacted wisdom teeth cause malocclusion and damage to neighboring teeth.
Although at one time, it was a right of passage to have wisdom teeth removed whether or not they were impacted, there’s some controversy about the practice these days and many dentists now recommend keeping your wisdom teeth unless they’re causing issues. If you’re on the fence, we’re happy to discuss the pros and cons of wisdom tooth extraction with you.