An impacted tooth is a tooth that is positioned against another tooth, bone or soft tissue. This positioning makes it unlikely for the tooth to fully erupt through the gums and reach its normal position in the mouth.
Impaction typically occurs in the third molars, also called wisdom teeth, because they're the last teeth to erupt. By your late teens and early 20s, the jaw has stopped growing and may be too small to accommodate these four teeth. This may cause overcrowding or teeth to become twisted, tilted or displaced as the new teeth try to emerge.
Impacted teeth are very common and may be attributed to genetics or poor orthodontic treatment.
Some people with impacted teeth have no pain or other symptoms. Impacted teeth may cause:
- Pain or tenderness of the gums or jaw bone
- Unpleasant taste when biting down
- Bad breath
- Redness and swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth
- Prolonged, unexplained headache or jaw ache
- Difficulty opening your mouth
Complications of untreated impacted teeth include:
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and medical history and will perform a physical exam. Tests may include dental X-rays to confirm tooth impaction
You may not need treatment if your impacted tooth causes no pain, inflammation, infection and/or does not affect mouth alignment.
Your dentist may recommend surgery to remove the tooth if there are noticeable symptoms. For difficult extractions, your dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon. Your dentist may recommend following until surgery can be scheduled:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers to ease pain and swelling
- Gargling with warm salt water to soothe gums
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.