Conditions,  Health

Impacted Wisdom Teeth – Removal, Pain, Treatment, Surgery Recovery

Key Facts

  • Impacted wisdom teeth are third molars at the back of the mouth that do not have enough space to emerge or grow normally
  • Impaction of wisdom teeth is a common dental issue, affecting approximately 45-70% of young adults
  • There are several types of impaction, including full bony impaction, partial bony impaction, soft tissue impaction, and horizontal impaction
  • Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain, swelling, difficulty opening the mouth, and other symptoms
  • If left untreated, impacted wisdom teeth can lead to infection, cysts, damage to other teeth, and other complications
  • Treatment often involves the extraction of the impacted wisdom teeth, usually performed by an oral surgeon

What are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last set of molars to develop and usually emerge in the late teens or early twenties. Impacted wisdom teeth occur when there is not enough space in the jaw for the teeth to properly emerge through the gums. This can cause the teeth to grow at an angle, emerge only partially, or get trapped within the jawbone.
When a wisdom tooth is impacted, it can cause a variety of problems. The surrounding area may become swollen and tender, and the tooth can push against other teeth, causing alignment issues. There is also an increased risk of infection, as bacteria can gather in the spaces around the impacted tooth.

What are the Different Types of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Impacted wisdom teeth can be categorized based on the angle at which they are emerging and the extent to which they have penetrated through the bone and gums:

  • Mesial Impaction: This is the most common type of impaction. In mesial impaction, the wisdom tooth is angled towards the front of the mouth. This angle causes the tooth to press against the second molar.
  • Horizontal Impaction: In this type, the wisdom tooth is lying horizontally and is growing in the direction of the adjacent molar rather than upwards through the gum line.
  • Distal Impaction: Here, the wisdom tooth is angled towards the back of the mouth. This is less common and may not always require treatment as the tooth is directed away from other teeth.
  • Vertical Impaction: The tooth is growing relatively straight up but has not been able to emerge through the gum line due to lack of space.

Fully Impacted Wisdom Teeth, Partially Impacted Wisdom Teeth, and Non-Impacted Wisdom Teeth – What’s the Difference?

  • Fully Impacted Wisdom Teeth: A fully impacted wisdom tooth is completely enclosed by the jawbone or the gums. It has not broken through the surface of the gums. This can be due to lack of space or improper angulation.
  • Partially Impacted Wisdom Teeth: A partially impacted wisdom tooth has begun to break through the gum but is not able to fully emerge. This creates an opening in the gum where bacteria can enter and cause infection.
  • Non-Impacted Wisdom Teeth: These are wisdom teeth that have successfully emerged through the gums and have fully erupted into the mouth. They are aligned properly and do not cause any issues with the surrounding teeth or tissues.

Soft Tissue Impaction vs. Hard Tissue Impaction

  • Soft Tissue Impaction: A soft tissue impaction occurs when the crown of the wisdom tooth has penetrated through the bone, but the gum is still covering it either partially or completely. This type of impaction can cause swelling, pain, and infection of the gum tissue surrounding the wisdom tooth.
  • Hard Tissue Impaction: In the case of hard tissue impaction, the wisdom tooth is still entirely encased within the jawbone. The tooth has not been able to break through the bone into the oral cavity. This type of impaction is generally more difficult to remove than soft tissue impactions.

In conclusion, impacted wisdom teeth are a common dental issue that can cause various problems including pain, infection, and alignment issues. Regular dental check-ups are important for early detection and management. The type and extent of impaction determine the approach to treatment, which often involves surgical extraction. It’s important to discuss the options and potential risks with your dentist or oral surgeon.

How Common are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Impacted wisdom teeth are relatively common. According to several studies, approximately 45-70% of young adults will experience at least one impacted wisdom tooth. The prevalence of impacted wisdom teeth varies among different populations and can be influenced by genetic factors. Some individuals may never develop wisdom teeth, while others might have one to four wisdom teeth, with any number of them becoming impacted.

How do Impacted Wisdom Teeth Affect My Oral Health?

Impacted wisdom teeth can have several adverse effects on oral health:

  • Pain and Discomfort: The most common symptom is pain in the back of your mouth. This can be due to the tooth trying to erupt, or due to infection and inflammation in the area.
  • Infection and Gum Disease: Partially impacted wisdom teeth can create pockets where food and bacteria can accumulate, increasing the risk of infection or gum disease.
  • Cysts or Tumors: A fluid-filled sac or cyst can form around the impacted tooth. In rare cases, these cysts can develop into benign tumors. This can lead to damage to the jawbone and surrounding teeth.
  • Tooth Crowding: Impacted wisdom teeth can push on adjacent teeth, causing them to move. This can lead to tooth crowding or misalignment.
  • Decay of Adjacent Teeth: Impacted wisdom teeth can be hard to clean due to their location in the back of the mouth. This can lead to tooth decay in not just the wisdom tooth but also the neighboring second molar.

Can Impacted Wisdom Teeth Cause Headaches?

Yes, impacted wisdom teeth can cause headaches. The pain and inflammation associated with an impacted wisdom tooth can sometimes radiate to other areas of the head and neck. The pressure from the impacted tooth on surrounding structures and the muscles in the area can also contribute to tension headaches.

What are the Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, you might experience one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or Throbbing in the back of your mouth, on one or both sides of the jaw
  • Swelling of the gums in the back of your mouth
  • Difficulty and Pain While Opening your mouth or biting
  • Bad Breath or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Swollen and Tender Lymph Nodes under your jaw
  • Redness and Inflammation of the gums surrounding the wisdom tooth
  • Crowding or shifting of surrounding teeth

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a dentist for evaluation and management. Early intervention can prevent complications and help maintain good oral health.

What Causes Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Impacted wisdom teeth occur when there is not enough space in the jaw for the teeth to emerge normally.
Various factors contribute to wisdom teeth becoming impacted:

  • Size of Jaw: A small jaw can lack the necessary space to accommodate the wisdom teeth.
  • Angle of Eruption: Wisdom teeth may not always align properly and can grow at various angles in the jaw, sometimes even horizontally.
  • Early Tooth Loss: Losing teeth at an early age can cause misalignment of other teeth, which can, in turn, block the path of the wisdom teeth.
  • Genetics: Genetics play a role in the development of wisdom teeth. People whose parents had impacted wisdom teeth are more likely to experience them as well.

How Do You Know If Your Wisdom Teeth Are Impacted?

The symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth can be an indication that your wisdom teeth are impacted. Common symptoms include pain in the back of the mouth, swollen gums around the area, difficulty in opening the mouth, and bad breath. However, it is also possible for impacted wisdom teeth to be asymptomatic. The definitive way to know if your wisdom teeth are impacted is through dental X-rays, which can show the position of the wisdom teeth in the jaw.

How Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth Treated?

The treatment of impacted wisdom teeth usually involves their removal. This is done to avoid complications like infection, cysts, and damage to adjacent teeth. The extraction is usually performed by an oral surgeon.

  • Simple Extraction: If the tooth has partially erupted, a simple extraction can be performed using local anesthesia.
  • Surgical Extraction: If the tooth is fully impacted or in a difficult position, a more involved surgical procedure may be necessary. This usually involves making an incision in the gums and may require the removal of some bone around the tooth. General anesthesia or sedation may be used.
  • Medications: Sometimes antibiotics and pain relievers are prescribed to manage infection and pain before or after the extraction.

Are Impacted Teeth More Painful to Remove?

Impacted teeth can be more difficult and sometimes more painful to remove compared to fully erupted teeth. This is because removing impacted teeth often requires a more invasive surgical procedure. However, anesthesia and pain management techniques are used to minimize pain during and after the procedure.

What Are the Risks and Complications of Wisdom Teeth Removal?

As with any surgery, there are risks and potential complications associated with the removal of wisdom teeth:

  • Dry Socket: This occurs when a blood clot fails to form in the hole, or the blood clot breaks off too soon.
  • Infection: There is a risk of infection in the socket where the tooth was removed, especially if oral hygiene is not maintained.
  • Nerve Damage: In some cases, the removal of wisdom teeth can cause damage to the nerves in the mouth.
  • Sinus Issues: Upper wisdom teeth are close to the sinuses and their removal can sometimes lead to sinus problems.
  • Prolonged Bleeding and Swelling: While some bleeding and swelling are common, in some cases it can be excessive.
  • Jaw and Muscle Soreness: Some patients experience stiffness and soreness in the jaw and muscles after the procedure.
  • Damage to Adjacent Teeth: In rare cases, the teeth next to the wisdom tooth can be damaged during the extraction.

It’s important to follow all the post-operative instructions given by your oral surgeon, and to keep the area clean to minimize risks and complications.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from Wisdom Teeth Removal?

Recovery from wisdom teeth removal varies from person to person. Generally, it takes a few days to a week for the initial healing of the gum tissue, and up to 6 months for the bone to heal completely. However, most people find that much of the pain and swelling goes down within the first 3-4 days after the surgery. It’s important to follow post-operative instructions and avoid certain foods and activities to ensure a smooth recovery.

Can I Prevent Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

There is no surefire way to prevent impacted wisdom teeth as they are often the result of genetic factors such as the size and shape of your jaw. However, regular dental check-ups from an early age can help monitor the development of the wisdom teeth and plan for extraction before they cause problems, if necessary.

Is It Necessary to Remove Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

It is not always necessary to remove impacted wisdom teeth. In some cases, if the teeth are asymptomatic and not causing any issues, your dentist may recommend leaving them in place. However, in cases where there is pain, infection, cysts, or damage to other teeth, removal is generally recommended to prevent further complications.

What Happens If You Don’t Remove Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

If impacted wisdom teeth are not removed, several complications can arise. These include:

  • Pain and Discomfort: Impacted wisdom teeth can cause ongoing pain in the jaw, headaches, and difficulty chewing.
  • Infection: Partially erupted wisdom teeth can create pockets in the gum where bacteria can collect, leading to infection.
  • Damage to Other Teeth: The pressure from the impacted tooth can cause crowding and even resorption of the roots of adjacent teeth.
  • Cysts and Tumors: Cysts can form around the impacted teeth and in rare cases, can develop into tumors.
  • Gum Disease: The difficulty in cleaning impacted wisdom teeth can lead to gum disease.

When Should I Seek Care for Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

You should seek dental care for impacted wisdom teeth if you experience symptoms such as pain, swelling, difficulty opening the mouth, bad breath, or if you have been told by your dentist that your wisdom teeth are impacted. Regular dental check-ups are also important as they can detect impacted wisdom teeth before symptoms even arise.

Bottom Line

Impacted wisdom teeth are a common dental issue, particularly among young adults. While they are not always symptomatic, when symptoms do occur, they can be severe. Regular dental check-ups are crucial for monitoring the health of your wisdom teeth. Extraction may be necessary to avoid complications such as infection, damage to other teeth, and more. It is important to seek the advice of a dentist if you have or suspect you have impacted wisdom teeth. Following post-operative instructions after extraction is vital for a smooth recovery.

This article is complete and was published on July 07, 2023, and last updated on August 25, 2023.

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