. Wisdom teeth’ as we know them are the third and last set of molars to emerge, after the late teens, and they often pose a problem due to their late arrival.
This is primarily because there may not be enough room in the jaw to accommodate four new teeth – one at each extreme of our double dental arch. As a result, they can grow at unusual angles or remain part embedded beneath the gums, leading to various issues.
While we are aware that these late bloomers cause varying degrees of discomfort, it is not commonly known that wisdom teeth also cause earache in some people.
Dr Karthik Shamanna, consultant specialist in ear, nose and throat (ENT) at Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru, says wisdom teeth generally emerge in most adults between the ages of 18 and 24. Some people have wisdom teeth that grow normally and line up with the teeth that are located behind the second molars.
However, in many cases, the mouth is too crowded for wisdom teeth to develop normally. It results in the third molars becoming trapped, or `impacted’, as dentists’ would say. The primary cause of impacted wisdom teeth is often genetic.
Mumbai-based MBA student Prerna Agarwal, 23, recently had a brush with wisdom teeth-related ear pain. She remembers that she had a mild ache in her left ear that she initially thought was an infection. She stopped using her earphones and avoided chewing on her left side for a few days.
When it continued for a week, she consulted an ENT physician who diagnosed that her top left wisdom tooth had caused swelling in the gums and also the ear pain.
“After about a week, the swelling in my gums subsided,” Agarwal continues. “As per the doctor’s advice, I maintained good oral hygiene with medicated mouthwash and avoided earplugs when travelling.”
Her experience shows how dental problems can sometimes lead to ear pain. It reminds us to pay heed in time to unusual health symptoms.
Causes of wisdom teeth ear pain
According to Dr Shamanna, “Impacted wisdom teeth can indeed lead to ear pain, primarily due to their closeness to the jaw joint, known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)”. Wisdom teeth that grow incorrectly or become impacted can disrupt the alignment of the jaw, leading to muscle strain and discomfort that can in turn radiate to the ear. This can be especially felt during jaw movement. It can cause overcrowding of teeth, infections, ear pain and swelling.
Wisdom teeth and ear pain
Proximity with the ear: One of the connections between wisdom teeth and ear pain is their proximity to each other. As wisdom teeth emerge or exert pressure on surrounding tissues, this discomfort can extend to the ear. The ear pain is typically felt on one side. It may be accompanied by jaw pain, headaches and discomfort in the neck. The pain often worsens when a jaw is moved.
Jaw pain and stiffness: Wisdom teeth can interfere with the alignment of our jaw, leading to muscle strain and jaw pain. This, in turn, can contribute to ear infections.
Gum issues: Partially erupted wisdom teeth can create a pocket of gum tissue that traps bacteria and food particles. This can lead to infections and swollen, painful gums. This condition known as pericoronitis can also contribute to ear infections.
Headaches: The strain on the jaw and surrounding muscles caused by impacted wisdom teeth can trigger headaches linked to ear pain.
“Dental-related ear pain is typically deep and felt in one ear, often extending to the neck or the back of the head. This pain is typically exacerbated by jaw movements,” says Dr Shamanna.
Treating wisdom teeth-related ear pain
In some cases, ear pain stemming from wisdom teeth issues may resolve on its own over time without any treatment as the body can fight ear infections on its own. However, if it does not subside on its own, here are some treatment options that experts recommend.
- Extraction: In cases where wisdom teeth are causing pain, infection or other dental problems, extraction can help. This procedure can reduce the pressure and discomfort associated with impacted wisdom teeth.
- Pain management: Over-the-counter or prescribed pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications help manage pain and inflammation.
- Warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to the affected area can help relax the muscles. It also provides relief from jaw and ear pain.
- Oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing and flossing, are essential to prevent infections and maintain oral health.
Oral health is closely linked to our overall well-being, say medical experts. It is essential to take care of wisdom teeth. While they are a natural part of our dental development, they can sometimes lead to unexpected issues, including ear pain.
Consult a dentist or an ENT specialist in case of ear pain, jaw discomfort, or headaches,
Early intervention, doctors say, can help prevent complications and provide relief from the discomfort associated with impacted wisdom teeth.