Impacted Wisdom Teeth

What are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth (third molars) are usually the last to emerge. Since they form and erupt long after the first and second molars, the others tend to spread out and leave far too little room. As they attempt to develop and erupt, they can push against other teeth and cause problems including misalignment, jaw rigidity, pain and infection.

They do not always erupt or cause problems, but the dentist may opt for removal as a precautionary measure. Even those that finally emerge without incident are more prone to decay and infection than the rest. They are not usually effective for chewing anyway because of their location.

What are the Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Impacted wisdom teeth are usually discovered through routine x-rays, but they may be partially visible. If they become infected or come in contact with the jawbone or other teeth, they may cause symptoms that require treatment.

Symptoms include

  • Inflamed gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Painful jaw
  • Swollen jaw
  • Foul breath
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Jaw stiffness

Impacted Wisdom Teeth Causes

The cause of impacted wisdom teeth is the shortage of space to accommodate the emerging teeth. These are the third set of molars and for some there is no place for the tooth to ascend, causing the gum to swell.

Evolution is another cause of impacted wisdom teeth – our ancestors needed the third set of molars, now our jawbones are smaller, with less capacity. The size of the molar presents an overcrowding issue, wedging them between the last tooth and the end of the jawbone and triggering difficulties.

Sometimes, wisdom teeth break through the gum with no signs of trouble. In other situations the formation of the tooth’s roots and the angle the tooth has chosen to enter the gum line increases the risk of trauma. Impacted teeth disrupt the lineup of the existing teeth, causing them to shift.

How are Impacted Wisdom Teeth Treated?

Those with certain health conditions may be required to take antibiotics before surgery to prevent infection and serious complications. Surgery usually takes place on an outpatient basis under sedation or local anesthesia. To ease pain and inflammation, aftercare may include gentle salt water rinses and the application of ice for the first 24 hours. After the 24-hour mark, moist heat may be recommended as needed at 20 minute intervals. Oral over-the-counter or prescription pain medication may be given. It can take anywhere from weeks to months to fully heal after impacted wisdom teeth are extracted.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth Prevention

There’s no method of preventing the third series of molars from emerging, but regular visits to your dentist can prevent more serious problems. If you are dealing with pain, talk with your doctor, since dental issues may influence your current medical condition. Your doctor will recommend a visit to your dentist for an evaluation and an assessment of your health.

Prevention methods utilized by dentists or oral surgeons make certain of no tooth decay or gum disease contributing to dental conditions related to the jawbone, sinuses and nerves. Emerging wisdom teeth are difficult to reach for cleaning. You need to take the time to clean the tooth and surrounding gums to prevent bacteria from developing and causing an infection.

Parents need to pay attention to any eating changes or tooth complaints from teenagers and young adults need to realize the importance of health precautions when these emerging teeth erupt.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 18, 2018