What is An Impacted Wisdom Tooth?
The simplest definition of an impacted tooth is: when a tooth doesn’t fully enter the mouth. Usually the tooth doesn’t come in straight or have enough room to break through the gums.
According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, about 90 percent of people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. These impacted teeth may disrupt the growth and development of a healthy mouth.
When a tooth doesn’t grow into its proper place, there may be unseen (and potentially troublesome) reasons. For example, the wisdom tooth might be growing sideways, possibly damaging and displacing nearby teeth. Or infection can set in when the wisdom tooth doesn’t come in properly. Rarely, cysts and tumors can form around wisdom teeth.
Just because the wisdom teeth aren’t hurting doesn’t mean they don’t need attention and possible removal. Wisdom teeth can cause problems without necessarily causing pain. Consult a wisdom tooth specialist (such as ‘Wisdom Teeth Only’), an orthodontist or a general dentist relatively early – if possible, during the early teen years. Waiting often results in more serious teeth and jaw problems.
There are different kinds of impacted wisdom teeth:
- Mesio-angular (angled forward): This is the most common kind of impacted wisdom tooth requiring removal. This type can allow food and bacteria to get trapped under the gums, causing recurring pain and swelling, decay and possible infection.
- Vertical impaction: When the wisdom tooth grows vertically – straight up and down – but doesn’t have enough room to come in properly. Again, pain, decay and possible infection can follow.
- Disto-angular (angled backwards): This is a less common type of impaction, but can lead to difficult surgical problems.
- Horizontal impaction: This is the least common kind of impacted wisdom tooth, and occurs when the wisdom tooth is growing completely sideways, straight into the roots of neighboring molars.
Commonly the wisdom tooth will erupt only partially, with the gum still extending over part of the tooth. Bacteria can form in the open gaps between the gum and tooth, with inflammation, decay and/or infection following.
Impaction is the most common reason to have your wisdom teeth removed. The kind of teeth impactions you have, and the history of your symptoms, will help the Oral Surgeon or dentist determine when to recommend the removal of your wisdom teeth.