Do I Have An Impacted Tooth?

By DD Smith

A very common experience of ‘coming of age’ is the development of an impacted third molar – commonly called a wisdom tooth. Other teeth can be impacted, but the third molars (wisdom teeth) are the most common ones to do so. They are the last teeth to erupt, and usually make their appearance in the late teens to early twenties. Even if they do not erupt, they are usually present, and it can be years before they start to cause problems. Or they may never cause a problem, even if they don’t erupt. How do you know if you have an impacted tooth, and what should you do about it?

What Causes the Problem?

Broadly speaking, the frequency with which wisdom teeth cause problems is believed to be evolutionary, whether from a shortened jawbone, changes in what people eat, or even the fact that tooth loss is relatively infrequent now. How one particular tooth becomes impacted varies widely from person to person. Your wisdom tooth might be:

— Slanted toward your second molar (mesial impaction) – the most common situation

— In an upright position but still not erupted (vertical impaction)

— Slanted toward the back of your mouth (distal impaction)


— Lying on its side (horizontal impaction)

In addition, the tooth’s failure to emerge can be because it isn’t making it through the soft tissue (gum line) or because it never made it through the bony tissue. Even teeth that fully emerge through the gum line can cause problems. They can be angled outward and irritate the cheek surface. Or if there is no opposing tooth present, the tooth can emerge so far that it throws off your bite.

What are the Symptoms?

First of all, you should know that not everyone has wisdom teeth. And not everyone has four of them. If you have regular dental exams, your dentist will know whether you do or don’t have wisdom teeth. They are the last teeth to form, and typically begin to form at about 9 years of age, beginning with the crown. The symptoms (which can also be signs of other oral health problems) are:

— Tenderness, redness or swelling of the gum around the impacted tooth – either before or after it breaks the surface

— A gap where the tooth did not emerge (tooth presence confirmed by x-ray)

— Bad breath

— Unpleasant taste when biting down in the area

— Chronic headache or pain in the jaw

— Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

What Should I Do About It?

First and foremost, consult your dentist. Wisdom teeth are easier to remove before the jawbone becomes very hard and dense. For that reason, if your dentist anticipates problems and recommends removal, you should strongly consider having it done as soon as possible and certainly before age 30, when complications from removal are much more likely to occur.

Your dentist can show you what is happening and what his concerns are with x-rays. The position of the wisdom tooth and how much room you have in your mouth are big factors, and the position of the tooth (below the bone or gumline) can change over time. The health of the adjoining teeth can also be affected. If a problematic wisdom tooth is left untreated, you could lose two teeth instead of one, or cause other teeth to become misaligned.

Waiting until pain develops can, in itself, result in a prolonged period of pain. If the pain is a result of infection, you will need to wait until that situation comes under control, perhaps taking antibiotics, before the tooth can be removed. Cysts can also develop underneath the gum line and become quite painful.

Again, the best advice is to see your dentist for regular checkups so that it’s more likely to uncover a developing problem. Ask for advice on whether or when one or more of your wisdom teeth need to be removed. With sedation dentistry, it can often be performed in the comfort of your dentist’s office.

About the Author: A leading

Raleigh NC Dentist

provided this information. He is a leading Practicing

Dentist in Raleigh NC

and is committed to offering high quality dental services and exceptional patient care. The practice provides a wide variety of dental treatments.


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