3 Signs of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Long ago in our evolutionary past, humans used to regularly eat foliage, roots, nuts, and meat. At that time, human jaws were larger in order to effectively grind up plant material. Wisdom teeth, or the third set of molars, were an essential structure to process this type of diet. Over time, however, humans evolved to using tools to cut up their food, as well as cooking methods to make food softer. As a result, the human jaw gradually became smaller and wisdom teeth were no longer an essential structure.

Nowadays, wisdom teeth are classified as a vestigial, or functionless, structure. They serve no purpose and are simple reminders of our evolutionary past. Furthermore, wisdom teeth no longer fit into the mouth the way they once did. Because of this, they often are impacted and need to be extracted. To learn more about what impaction is, see “4 Types of Wisdom Teeth Impactions”. To determine if wisdom teeth are impacted, look for these three signs:

Woman sitting in dental chair holding her cheek with a pained expression


Pain towards the back of the mouth or in the jaw is a pretty good indication that you may have a wisdom tooth impaction. Depending on the type of impaction, pain may be felt in the gums, the surrounding teeth, while chewing, or in all of the aforementioned. Pain from wisdom teeth can be caused by crooked wisdom teeth or by an infection caused by an impacted wisdom tooth. Wisdom teeth pain may start gradually or it may come on suddenly. 


Another key sign of an impacted wisdom tooth is swelling. In most cases, swelling can occur in the gums around the affected tooth. In some cases, swelling may also be felt in the jaw. If the gums are swollen, they may also appear red or may bleed easily. You may also experience swelling in the lymph nodes or even a sore throat. 

Foul Odor or Taste

The final sign of impacted wisdom teeth are a foul odor or taste that permeates through the mouth. In most cases, foul odor and taste are caused by pericoronitis. Pericoronitis is an infection that occurs near impacted wisdom teeth. In addition to foul odor or taste, there may be gum discharge, jaw swelling, muscle spasms, or swollen lymph nodes. 

While pain, swelling, and a foul odor or taste are three telltale signs of an impacted wisdom tooth, it is important to note that not everyone experiences these same exact symptoms. Some people may never know they have impacted wisdom teeth until they receive a dental x-ray at their routine dental exam, while others may be able to notice pain or swelling as soon as their wisdom teeth begin to erupt. 

Nevertheless, pain, swelling, and a foul odor or taste are three signs of an impacted wisdom tooth. If you are between 17 & 25 and you begin experiencing these symptoms, it is very likely that you could have an impacted wisdom tooth. In some cases, an impacted wisdom tooth may eventually be able to erupt properly, but in most cases dental intervention of some kind is necessary to alleviate symptoms, prevent infection, and preserve your oral health. 

Dr. Dennis Laurich

Dr. Dennis Laurich has been practicing dentistry for over 40 years. He received his DDS degree from the University of Michigan Dental School and regularly attends oral health care conventions to continue his dental education. This allows him to treat patients with the leading dental technology and methodologies. Additionally, he is a member of the American Dental Association, Michigan Dental Association, and the Detroit District Dental Society. 

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