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If you’re over 25, the odds are good that you have or used to have at least one impacted tooth. Nearly 85% of all adults will have an impacted tooth – almost always a third molar or “wisdom tooth” – extracted during their lifetime.

Impaction, the term used when a tooth fails to break through the gum (erupt) entirely, is a common condition that sometimes requires surgical options to correct and sometimes requires nothing more than monitoring. This month, we’ll look into what causes impacted teeth and what can be done in cases where an impaction has negative health impacts.

What Is an Impacted Tooth?

Any tooth that does not emerge fully from the gums is said to be impacted. Impactions can be full or partial; the latter occurs when the tooth’s crown emerges from the gum, but the tooth fails to erupt completely. The most common teeth to become impacted are the third molars, commonly called “wisdom teeth.” The canines (the sharp teeth to either side of the front incisors) are the second most common impactions.

What Causes Impacted Teeth?

The most common cause for an impaction is something blocking the emergence of a tooth. That blockage can take many forms:

  • A primary or “baby” tooth that hasn’t correctly separated from the jaw to make way for an emerging permanent tooth
  • The space between two existing teeth or between a tooth and the corner of the jaw is too small for the emerging tooth
  • A malformation in the jaw causes the tooth to emerge in the wrong direction

What Are Some Symptoms of Impacted Teeth?

A fully impacted tooth will sometimes show no symptoms and sometimes present as minor mouth or jaw pain. Since fully impacted teeth are not visible, regular dental checkups with X-rays are the best way to catch an impaction that hasn’t started causing complications.

Partially impacted teeth are more likely to present symptoms, including:

  • Pain and tenderness in the jaw or gums
  • Redness and swelling of the gums
  • A persistent headache or jaw ache
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth and bad breath

Impactions can sometimes cause lymph nodes in the neck to swell or make opening and closing the jaw painful.

What Potential Problems Can Impacted Teeth Cause?

Sometimes, an impacted tooth isn’t a problem at all. Millions carry one or more impacted molars around for their entire lives with no ill effects whatsoever.

In many cases, however, an impaction can cause several problems:

  • The pressure caused by the presence of an impacted tooth can force other teeth out of alignment
  • Partially impacted teeth are more susceptible to cavities and decay thanks to the ease with which food particles and other debris can get trapped between the tooth and the gum
  • An impacted tooth can cause significant pain and discomfort thanks to the additional pressure it puts on the mouth and through the possibility of the impaction causing inflammation of the mandibular nerve or sinuses
  • Food and other debris trapped in the gum by an impacted tooth can lead to a painful inflammation of the gums called pericoronitis

What Treatments Are Available for Impacted Teeth?

In many cases, no treatment will be required. So long as your impacted tooth isn’t causing any pain, opening your mouth up to infections or inflammation, and isn’t pushing your teeth out of alignment, there’s no need to treat the impaction. So long as you’re adhering to a regular twice-annual checkup schedule and your dentist monitors the impacted teeth via routine X-rays, there’s nothing more to do.

If the impaction is causing problems, then you may need to have the offending tooth removed. Depending on the nature of the tooth, its location, and how far erupted the tooth is will determine how invasive the extraction will be.

If the tooth is mostly erupted, extraction may be possible with a local anesthetic and a traditional extractor tool. If the tooth hasn’t erupted or is in a tight corner of the mouth, the extraction may require oral surgery using local, “twilight” or partial anesthesia,  or even full anesthesia.

If a canine has become impacted, your dentist may recommend orthodontic procedures to encourage the tooth to erupt fully rather than extracting the affected tooth. While most people can comfortably lose one or all of their third molars (even losing all four “wisdom teeth” leaves someone with eight molars), losing even a single canine can significantly impact oral health. Installing a brace or retainer to help the errant tooth emerge correctly is usually preferred to simple extraction.

Athens Oral Surgery Is Your Local Oral Surgeon With More Than a Decade of Experience.

Dr. Tomlinson and his team are experienced in providing quality care for your impacted tooth. Schedule an appointment by calling 706-549-5033.

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