An impacted tooth remains embedded in soft gum tissue or bone beyond its normal eruption time. The cause may be overcrowding. Other teeth may also become twisted, tilted, or displaced as the new teeth try to emerge.
Impaction typically occurs in the third molars, also called the wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth, which begin to develop around age 9, are most likely to impact because they are the last teeth to erupt, usually between the late teens and early 20s. By then, the jaw has stopped growing and may be too small to have room for these 4 teeth.
Some people with impacted teeth have no pain or other symptoms. In those who have symptoms, impacted teeth may cause:
- Redness and swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth
- Pain or tenderness of the gums or jaw bone
- Prolonged, unexplained headache or jaw ache
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Unpleasant taste when biting down
- Bad breath
Complications of untreated impacted teeth include:
- A cyst in the soft tissue under the gum line
- Tooth decay
- Poor alignment of other teeth
- Swelling of the gums, which can lead to infection— gingivitis
- Absorption of bone or adjacent teeth
If an impacted tooth causes no pain, inflammation, or infection, and does not affect mouth alignment, no treatment may be needed.
If there are symptoms, surgery is recommended to remove all impacted teeth, preferably while the person is young. This may be done by a dentist under local anesthesia if the tooth is exposed and can be removed in 1 piece. For difficult extractions, a referral may be made to an oral surgeon. In these cases, general anesthesia or an IV sedative may be used.
Until surgery is scheduled, the following may be advised:
- Over the counter pain relievers to ease pain and swelling
- Gargling with warm salt water to soothe the gums
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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