Conditions,  Health,  Orthodontics

Impacted Teeth – Meaning, Symptoms, Treatment, Removal, Definition

Key Facts

  • Impacted teeth are teeth that have failed to emerge through the gums or have only partially emerged
  • They are often caused by insufficient space in the jaw or by teeth growing at the wrong angle
  • Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the most common type of impacted teeth
  • Symptoms include pain, swelling, and sometimes infection
  • Treatment often involves surgical removal of the impacted tooth
  • Early diagnosis and intervention can prevent complications

What are Impacted Teeth?

Impacted teeth are teeth that do not fully pass through the gum tissues because of obstruction or developmental problems. While they’re often asymptomatic initially, they can eventually lead to oral health issues such as infections, pain, or alignment problems. Wisdom teeth are most commonly impacted, but other teeth can also be affected.

Types of Impacted Teeth (Classification)

There are several types of impacted teeth based on the angle and position of the tooth as it attempts to emerge through the gums. Here’s a breakdown of the different types:

  • Horizontal Impaction: In horizontal impaction, the tooth is positioned horizontally, lying on its side. This means that it is essentially parallel to the jawbone. This type of impaction is usually the most problematic because the tooth is growing in the complete opposite direction of its normal eruption path. It can cause pressure on the roots of adjacent teeth and may require surgical removal.
  • Vertical Impaction: Vertical impaction occurs when a tooth tries to emerge vertically but is unable to break through the gum line. This may be because there isn’t enough space in the jaw for the tooth to fit. Sometimes, with the help of orthodontic treatment, a vertically impacted tooth might be guided into its correct position. In other cases, especially with wisdom teeth, extraction might be the most feasible solution.
  • Mesial Impaction: Mesial impaction is when the tooth is angled towards the front of the mouth. This is the most common type of impaction for wisdom teeth. In mesial impaction, the tooth may partially emerge through the gums, but due to the angle, it tends to push against the tooth in front of it. Depending on the degree of the angle and the impact on the neighboring teeth, mesial impaction may require extraction.
  • Distal Impaction: Distal impaction is the opposite of mesial impaction. In this case, the tooth is angled towards the back of the mouth. This type of impaction is relatively rare compared to mesial impaction. Sometimes, a distally impacted tooth might not require immediate treatment, especially if it is not causing any symptoms or affecting other teeth.

Each type of impaction can cause varying degrees of discomfort and complications. The appropriate treatment will depend on the type of impaction, its severity, and the symptoms it causes. It is important to consult with a dentist or oral surgeon for the best course of action. Regular dental check-ups can also help in early detection and management of impacted teeth.

Symptoms of Impacted Teeth

Not all impacted teeth cause symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Pain in the jaw or gums
  • Swelling or redness of the gums around the area where a tooth has not come in
  • Bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Tender or swollen lymph nodes

What Causes an Impacted Tooth?

Several factors contribute to tooth impaction:

  • Lack of space: Sometimes the jaw is too small to accommodate all the teeth, leading to crowding and impaction
  • Incorrect growth: A tooth may start coming in at an angle, which prevents it from emerging properly
  • Delayed loss of baby teeth: If baby teeth don’t fall out in time, they can block the permanent teeth from coming in
  • Genetics: Family history of impacted teeth can play a role

How are Impacted Teeth Treated?

The treatment for an impacted tooth depends on several factors including the type of tooth, the severity of the impaction, and any associated symptoms. Common treatments include:

  • Observation and Monitoring: In some cases, especially with children, the dentist may choose to monitor the impacted tooth to see if it resolves on its own.
  • Orthodontic Treatment: Braces or other orthodontic appliances can be used to create space for the impacted tooth to emerge naturally. This is often used for impacted canines.
  • Surgical Extraction: In cases where the impacted tooth is causing pain, infection or has the potential to damage adjacent teeth, surgical extraction may be recommended.
  • Surgical Exposure and Orthodontic Bracketing: This involves surgically exposing the crown of the impacted tooth and then attaching orthodontic brackets to help guide it into position.

Complications of Impacted Teeth

If left untreated, impacted teeth can lead to various complications including:

  • Infection or cyst formation around the impacted tooth
  • Damage to adjacent teeth
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth decay in partially impacted teeth
  • Misalignment of other teeth

Pain Management for Impacted Teeth

Managing pain associated with impacted teeth is important. Pain relief options include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Cold compress applied to the outside of the cheek
  • Rinsing the mouth with warm salt water

It’s also advisable to avoid foods that could irritate the area and to maintain good oral hygiene.


The outlook for impacted teeth varies depending on the severity, the health of the surrounding teeth, and how treatment is approached. When detected and managed early, complications can often be prevented. If surgical intervention is needed, recovery is typically straightforward, with pain and discomfort diminishing over the days following the procedure.

Which Teeth are Most Often Impacted?

The wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the most commonly impacted due to their position at the back of the mouth. There’s often not enough space for them to emerge properly. However, canines and premolars can also become impacted.

Do I Have to Treat Impacted Teeth?

The necessity to treat impacted teeth depends on several factors including the type of impaction, the symptoms, and the potential for complications. In some cases, impacted teeth do not cause any discomfort or harm and may not require immediate treatment. However, if an impacted tooth is causing pain, affecting neighboring teeth, or there is a risk of infection or other complications, treatment becomes necessary.

Do Impacted Teeth Need to Get Removed?

Not all impacted teeth need to be removed. The decision to extract an impacted tooth depends on the position of the tooth, the potential for complications, and any symptoms it may be causing. Impacted wisdom teeth are commonly removed if they are causing issues because they are not essential for chewing. For other impacted teeth, especially in the case of children, orthodontic treatments may sometimes be used to help the tooth emerge naturally.

Will an Impacted Baby Tooth Grow in Eventually?

In some cases, an impacted baby tooth may eventually grow in naturally as the child’s jaw develops. However, in other cases, it may require intervention. This can include removal of the baby tooth if it is blocking the impacted tooth, or orthodontic treatment to create space for the tooth to emerge.

What Are Impacted Baby Teeth?

Impacted baby teeth are primary teeth that have failed to emerge through the gum at the expected time. This can be due to a variety of reasons such as lack of space, obstruction by other teeth, or developmental issues. Like impacted adult teeth, impacted baby teeth can cause discomfort and affect the development of the permanent teeth.

What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Impacted wisdom teeth refer to the third molars, commonly known as wisdom teeth, which have not properly emerged through the gums. This is often because there is not enough space in the back of the mouth for them to grow in properly. Impacted wisdom teeth can be positioned at various angles in the jaw, and they can be partially or fully impacted. They are a common cause of tooth pain and are often extracted to prevent complications such as infection, damage to other teeth, and cyst formation.

Do You Have to Remove Impacted Baby Teeth?

The removal of impacted baby teeth is not always necessary. The decision to remove them depends on several factors such as the position of the tooth, the presence of pain or infection, and whether the impaction is affecting the development of permanent teeth. In some cases, if the impacted tooth is not causing any issues, a dentist might recommend monitoring the situation. In other instances, if it is determined that the impacted baby tooth is posing a threat to oral health or proper development, extraction may be recommended.

What Happens if You Don’t Remove Impacted Teeth?

Failing to remove impacted teeth when necessary can lead to several complications. These may include pain, swelling, and infection. Additionally, an impacted tooth can cause damage to adjacent teeth, and in the case of wisdom teeth, cysts may develop. For impacted baby teeth, failure to address the issue may affect the alignment and development of the permanent teeth.

How Long Does it Take to Treat an Impacted Tooth?

The duration of treatment for an impacted tooth can vary widely depending on the complexity of the case and the chosen method of treatment. Surgical extraction usually requires one appointment, but the recovery period can last for a few days to a few weeks. If orthodontic treatment is used to correct impaction, it can take several months to years depending on the severity and the response to treatment.

Can Braces Treat an Impacted Tooth?

Yes, braces can be used to treat certain cases of impacted teeth. Through the use of braces, orthodontists can create space for the impacted tooth to emerge naturally. Additionally, braces can help guide the tooth into the correct position once it has emerged. This is commonly used for impacted canines or other teeth that are essential for proper dental function.

Can Invisalign Treat an Impacted Tooth?

Invisalign may be used in mild to moderate cases of impaction. However, traditional braces are often more effective for severe cases. Invisalign works best for cases where minor adjustments are needed to create space for the tooth to emerge. The suitability of Invisalign for treating an impacted tooth depends on the specifics of the case and should be discussed with an orthodontist.

Do You Need Braces for an Impacted Canine?

Braces are commonly used to treat impacted canines. They help in creating space in the dental arch for the impacted tooth to emerge and guide it into the correct position. In some cases, surgical exposure of the impacted canine is combined with orthodontic treatment to assist in its proper alignment.

Are Impacted Canines Common?

Impacted canines are relatively common, especially in the upper jaw. The upper canines are the second most common teeth to become impacted after wisdom teeth.

How Much Does it Cost to Fix an Impacted Tooth with Invisalign?

The cost to fix an impacted tooth with Invisalign varies depending on factors such as the severity of the impaction, the geographic location, and the dentist’s fees. On average, Invisalign treatment can range from $3,000 to $7,000 (as of 2023).

Can You Die from an Impacted Tooth?

While it is extremely rare for someone to die from an impacted tooth, it is important not to ignore severe impactions, especially if they are associated with infection. An untreated infection can, in rare cases, spread to other areas of the body and cause serious health issues.

Can Impacted Canines Cause Headaches?

Yes, impacted canines can cause headaches. The pressure from the impacted tooth on surrounding structures and nerves can lead to pain and discomfort that radiates to the head, causing headaches. Additionally, an infection associated with an impacted canine can also cause headaches.

Bottom Line

Impacted teeth are a common dental issue, particularly in the case of wisdom teeth. While they may not always cause immediate symptoms, it’s important to have regular dental check-ups to monitor for potential problems. Early intervention can prevent complications and preserve oral health.

This article is complete and was published on June 23, 2023, and last updated on Autust 25, 2023.

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