Wisdom teeth are the last set of adult teeth to grow in, usually between the ages of 17 and 25. They emerge at the back of the mouth as your third molars, and most people have two wisdom teeth on both the top and bottom rows of teeth. When wisdom teeth don’t emerge or develop normally due to overcrowding in the back of the mouth, they can become impacted.
Impacted wisdom teeth are notorious for causing pain, damage to other teeth, and other dental complications. Impacted wisdom teeth can also increase your risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and infection as they are hard to clean. In some cases, however, impacted wisdom teeth don’t cause apparent or immediate problems.
Impacted wisdom teeth are usually removed when they cause pain and other dental complications. Still, some dentists recommend removing asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth to prevent future complications.
What Are the Symptoms?
Impacted wisdom teeth don’t always cause noticeable problems. In some cases, however, they manifest in many unmistakable symptoms, especially as the condition worsens and affects adjacent teeth.
- Throbbing or radiating pain in the impacted tooth or the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
- Red, tender, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Swelling or pain around the jaw
- Cysts, tumors, or infection
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis)
- Bad taste in your mouth
- Tooth decay
- Damage to adjacent teeth
What Causes an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?
Wisdom teeth become impacted when there isn’t enough space in your jaw for the teeth to erupt or develop normally. They can be partially or fully impacted. Partial impaction occurs when the tooth erupts through the gum so that part of the crown is visible but the rest is below the gum line. Full impaction occurs when the tooth doesn’t emerge and is completely hidden underneath the gums.
Whether partially or fully impacted, wisdom teeth come in different variations. Each type matches the positioning of the impacted tooth:
- Distal impaction: Occurs when the wisdom tooth is erupting at an angle toward the back of your mouth.
- Mesial impaction: Occurs when the wisdom tooth grows at an angle toward the second molar.
- Horizontal Impaction: Characterized by a fully impacted wisdom tooth that is positioned horizontally underneath the gums.
- Vertical Impaction: Occurs when a wisdom tooth is correctly positioned to erupt (growing straight up) but stays trapped within the jawbone.
How Does an Impacted Wisdom Tooth Impact Your Overall Oral Health?
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause several oral health problems, some more serious than others.
- Damage to nearby teeth: When an impacted wisdom tooth pushes against the adjacent tooth, it can induce crowding problems, which will require orthodontic treatment. Also, the pressure may damage the second molar and increase the risk of infection.
- Gum disease: Partially erupted wisdom teeth are difficult to clean, increasing the risk of developing an inflammatory gum condition known as pericoronitis.
- Cysts: The sac in which the wisdom tooth develops within the jawbone can fill with fluid, forming a cyst that causes damage to the nerves, jawbone, and teeth. In rare cases, a noncancerous tumor can develop. This may require the removal of bone and tissue.
- Decay: Food particles and bacteria can easily become trapped between a partially impacted wisdom tooth and the gums. And because wisdom teeth are a lot harder to clean, they’re at higher risk of tooth decay than other teeth.
What is the Treatment for Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
If your third molars are causing pain, discomfort, or other dental complications, your dentists will likely recommend extraction. Wisdom tooth extraction involves local anesthesia or general anesthesia, depending on the level of difficulty of the procedure. During the procedure, the oral surgeon will make an incision to carefully extract the tooth and may use tools to break it into smaller pieces for easier removal. The length of the procedure will depend on how deeply the tooth is positioned.
After the wisdom tooth extraction, you’ll receive instructions for managing pain and swelling and caring for the wound while you recover. While many people recover from wisdom tooth surgery in a few days, it can sometimes take up to two weeks before you’re ready to return to your regular routine.
The thought of having an impacted wisdom tooth removed may be overwhelming, but getting care early on in the process can prevent serious and permanent problems. If you have pain or other symptoms originating from the area behind your last molar, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your dentist.