Impacted Tooth

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An impacted tooth cannot fully erupt through the gums and reach its normal position in the mouth because the impacted tooth is positioned against another tooth, bone or soft tissue.

Wisdom teeth (third molar) impaction is most common because they're the last teeth to erupt. By your late teens and early 20s, your jaw has stopped growing and may be too small to fit these four teeth. This leads to overcrowding or twisting, tilting or displacement as the new teeth try to emerge.

Symptoms of an Impacted Tooth

Impacted teeth are very common and may be caused by genetics or poor orthodontic treatment.

You may not experience any symptoms; however, if you do, typical symptoms of impacted teeth include:

  • 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

Untreated impacted teeth can lead to:

  • A cyst in the soft tissue under the gum line
  • Tooth decay
  • Misalignment of other teeth
  • Gingivitis
  • Absorption of bone or adjacent teeth

Diagnosis & Treatment

Other than a typical exam and imaging, 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 the following until surgery can be scheduled:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers to ease pain and swelling
  • Gargling with warm salt water to soothe gums

You may not need treatment if your impacted tooth causes no pain, inflammation, infection and/or does not affect mouth alignment.


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.