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What to Know About Tooth Impaction

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 30, 2021

Wisdom teeth typically affect young people between the ages of 17 and 25. A wisdom tooth is a third molar in the back of the mouth. Some people have no issues when their third set of molars appears. 

Your wisdom teeth can get trapped if there is not enough space in your mouth for them. Tooth impaction is a condition where the third set of molars only comes through halfway or fails to emerge at all.

Causes of Tooth Impaction

Impacted teeth stay embedded in your gum tissue or bone longer than they should. Overcrowding is usually the issue. Your wisdom teeth can also become impacted if they come in at a twisted angle or shift. You may be at risk for tooth impaction because of genetics or from not getting proper orthodontic treatment in time.

Be aware that any of your teeth can become impacted. Children can have issues with the development of their permanent teeth. That often happens if the baby teeth do not fall out or when a cyst or other growth blocks the permanent tooth’s path. The tooth may push out in the wrong place.

Tooth impaction in children can lead to problems with the roots of other teeth. A child can end up with crowding or have teeth in positions that make it hard for them to chew. Impacted teeth can be extremely painful. The cosmetic effect of tooth impaction can also lead to issues with self-esteem.

It’s often easier for orthodontists to correct issues in children. That is why orthodontists recommend having children evaluated for potential issues by age 7.

Signs of Tooth Impaction

Some people never experience discomfort from impacted wisdom teeth. This means they do not know when there is a problem. But you may notice the appearance of your teeth change because the tooth impaction affects the rest of your mouth.

Your dentist may be the first to alert you to possible issues with tooth impaction. They track the progression of the impacted teeth to determine the severity of the issue. Some of the things they look for include:

  • Wisdom teeth that are out of position: This could leave room for food to become trapped and enable the growth of bacteria.
  • Wisdom teeth that come through the gum line incorrectly: You may have a harder time flossing between your teeth.
  • Partially erupted wisdom teeth: These give bacteria a place to grow and thrive.
  • A lack of space for wisdom teeth: This often causes issues with neighboring teeth.
  • The development of a cyst: Cysts can block a tooth from coming through the gum line. This may eventually damage the bone supporting your teeth.

Tooth impaction can lead to symptoms like:

  • Redness and swelling in the gums
  • Bad breath
  • Pain and tenderness in the gums or jaw
  • Problems opening your mouth
  • Headaches
  • Tooth decay
  • Alignment problems with other teeth
  • Gingivitis‌

Treating Tooth Impaction

X-rays. Dentists typically conduct x-rays to see how severe your tooth impaction is. They will also ask you questions about the history of your symptoms and how they impact your daily life. Your dentist may decide that further treatment is unnecessary if the teeth are upright and functional and you’re not experiencing pain or discomfort.

Extraction. Your dentist may recommend having wisdom teeth removed if they are impacted and causing pain or other issues with your oral health and hygiene. If your wisdom teeth initially came in fine but start to decay, you may need them removed.

You may experience some complications after having surgery for impacted teeth, including:

  • Swelling and discomfort in the gum and tooth socket where the dentist performed the extraction
  • Continuous bleeding for around 24 hours
  • Potential damage to existing dental work like bridges or the roots of neighboring teeth
  • An opening appearing in the sinus cavity due to an impacted tooth’s removal
  • Slow healing of your gums
  • Feeling of discomfort when you open your mouth
  • Dry socket 

Make sure you understand all your options when it comes to dealing with tooth impaction. You’ll have to balance the consequences of keeping your wisdom teeth with the risks of having tooth impaction surgery.

You should continue visiting your dentist regularly to track the health of your teeth. Remember that having surgery when you are younger will make it simpler for a dentist to extract an impacted tooth.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Association of Orthodontics: “What Is An Impacted Tooth?”

Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital: “Impacted Tooth.”

JOHNS HOPKINS: “Wisdom Teeth Extraction."

MAYO CLINIC: “Impacted Wisdom Teeth.”‌‌

Mouth Healthy: “Wisdom Teeth.”

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