Impacted wisdom teeth can lead to a number of oral health problems including infection, tooth decay, gum disease, overcrowding, and damage to the surrounding teeth. All these issues can lead to swelling and pain and if left untreated, can cause longer term issues in your mouth.
Wisdom teeth were once an important set of molars, essential for grinding down food in our ancestral diets. Wisdom teeth are a third set of molars that are the last adult teeth to come into the mouth. Most people have four wisdom teeth at the back of the mouth – two at the top and two on the bottom. Wisdom teeth can come though into the mouth at various stages and for some people, their wisdom teeth never come through.
Over time, wisdom teeth have become redundant as our diets have changed. Today, they often lead to the oral health problems listed above as well as causing other potential health issues including headaches and jaw pain.
Whilst wisdom teeth can erupt into the mouth in alignment with your other teeth, causing no problems at all, an impacted wisdom tooth is very common, and it is when your wisdom teeth become impacted that you begin to have issues.
What are impacted wisdom teeth?
Over time as we have evolved, our jaws have become smaller, and this has led to issues with the way that wisdom teeth erupt into the mouth.
An impacted wisdom tooth is one that becomes partially or fully trapped in your gums or jawbone. A fully impacted wisdom tooth is one that you cannot see. They remain completely hidden underneath your gums, however, thy can cause a lot of pain, swelling, and general discomfort in your mouth.
A partially impacted wisdom tooth is one that has partially erupted into your mouth; however it is not in alignment with your other teeth.
Non-impacted wisdom teeth have completely erupted into the mouth and are completely visible above your gum line. Non-impacted wisdom teeth can still cause issues with your oral health including swelling and pain.
The four types of wisdom teeth impaction
There are four types of impacted wisdom teeth and each type matches with the positioning of your tooth. These include:
The most common type of wisdom tooth impaction is called a mesial impaction. This happens when your wisdom tooth is angled towards the front of your mouth. This type of impaction does not always cause issues and your dentist will closely monitor the impact of that tooth on neighbouring teeth as well as on your gums.
A vertical wisdom tooth impaction happens when your wisdom tooth is in the correct position for eruption but remains trapped beneath your gums. This type of impaction is one that rarely leads to extraction as the tooth is in the correct position and typically, won’t cause you any problems. The only issue that a vertical impaction can cause is with overcrowding or if it exerts too much pressure on the root of the neighbouring tooth.
A horizontal wisdom tooth impaction is one of the strangest as your wisdom tooth will be lying completely on its side, trapped beneath your gums. This type of impaction is often the most painful and can cause several issues. As the wisdom tooth is lying sideways, instead of moving up and erupting through the gums, instead it moves sideways into the tooth next to it. A horizontal wisdom tooth impaction is one that will require extraction to alleviate pain and stop issues developing later in life.
Distal impactions are the rarest of all wisdom teeth impactions and is the opposite to a mesial impaction whereby the tooth will be angled towards the back of your mouth, not the front. Both mesial and distal impactions are sometime referred to as angular impactions. Whilst a distal impaction is not that common, they share similar traits as mesial impactions and can be fully or partially impacted. Extraction will depend on the angle of the tooth and the amount of impaction.
Soft tissue impaction vs hard tissue impaction
Other common terms you might hear in relation to wisdom teeth impaction are “soft tissue” or “hard tissue” impaction. A soft tissue impaction occurs when your wisdom tooth has erupted from your jawbone but hasn’t broken through your gums. A hard tissue impaction means your wisdom tooth is completely covered by your gums and jawbone.
What are the symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth?
In many cases, people can go through life without having any issues with their wisdom teeth. Other times, however, you can feel discomfort or other symptoms that will make you worry about the potential long-term issues that these symptoms might cause. Just because you feel discomfort in your wisdom teeth doesn’t always mean that you have impacted wisdom teeth but here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- Pain or swelling of your jaw or face
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- A bad taste in your mouth or bad breath
- Difficulty in fully opening your mouth.
These symptoms are common for people with impacted wisdom teeth, however, these symptoms can also persist when wisdom teeth are erupting in alignment with other teeth in your mouth so it’s always best to visit your dentist as soon as possible if you feel any of these symptoms.
How do I know if my wisdom tooth is impacted?
A trip to your dentist will be necessary to find out if you have impacted wisdom teeth. Your dentist will perform and examination and talk to you about your symptoms. They will also take a dental x-ray to find out more about your wisdom teeth and how they are impacting on the other teeth around them.
If you visit your dentist on a regular basis, your wisdom teeth are something your dentist will typically keep a close eye on so they can take proactive steps to avoid any major issues later down the line.
How are impacted wisdom teeth treated?
In many cases, the best way to treat impacted wisdom teeth is extraction. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the impact on other teeth in your mouth, your dentist will talk you through your options.
As we mention above, many dentists like to be proactive in the management of wisdom teeth and will often recommend oral surgery to remove your wisdom teeth before they cause further issues, especially when they are impacted.
Is it ok to leave impacted wisdom teeth?
If your wisdom teeth are impacted but they are causing you no issues, then it is usually ok to leave them. If you do start to develop symptoms, especially regular pain from your wisdom teeth or headaches, then removal is often the best course of action.
What happens if an impacted wisdom tooth is not removed?
Again, your dentist will be able to advise you after looking at your dental x-rays, however, if your dentist doesn’t feel like your impacted wisdom teeth are going to cause you any problems, they may well choose to leave them and monitor them through regular check-ups.
Can an impacted wisdom tooth heal on its own?
In many cases, impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain and discomfort, and this can come and go over your lifetime if you choose not to remove them. If, however, that pain and discomfort happen on a regular basis, it is likely going to be necessary to remove them.
Talk to the team at Hamilton Dental
If you are having any discomfort at all with your wisdom teeth, come and talk to the team at Hamilton Dental.
Our dentists are very experienced with the removal procedure for impacted wisdom teeth. Because we see so many cases, we have a panoramic x-ray on-site which allows us to image the wisdom teeth’s location in the jaw very precisely. Where a case is very complex, we may decide to send you through to refer you to an oral surgeon.