No More Natural Teeth: Deciding Between Implants and Dentures

Why Do Wisdom Teeth Become Impacted And How Are They Treated?

by Jeremiah Barnett

Wisdom teeth seem like they should bring some sort of great benefit when they arrive in your mouth, judging by the name. For many people, however, the only thing wisdom teeth bring is the need to remove the teeth. Why do wisdom teeth become impacted? How do you know that they are impacted? What is done to treat impacted wisdom teeth? 

Many people have teeth that come in fine up until the wisdom teeth decide to erupt. When the wisdom teeth start to push towards the surface of the gum, they encounter an obstruction in the form of another tooth. This situation is called "impacted wisdom teeth."

What are impacted wisdom teeth?

There are two versions of impacted wisdom teeth:

  • Partially impacted wisdom teeth occur when the wisdom tooth is partially blocked by another tooth, preventing it from pushing through the gum
  • Completely impacted wisdom teeth occur when the wisdom tooth is completely underneath another tooth or teeth

What are the symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth?

When a wisdom tooth is partially or completely blocked, any number of complications can occur including:

  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Facial swelling
  • Gum line swelling
  • Bad breath

Why do some people end up with impacted wisdom teeth?

In some people, there is just not enough room in the mouth for all of their teeth. Wisdom teeth are some of the last teeth to come in through the gums. If a person's mouth is already crowded, there is no place for those teeth to go, so they become "stuck" underneath other teeth or come in at odd angles.

Can impacted wisdom teeth cause serious complications?

If identified early, most impacted wisdom teeth can be extracted before any serious side effects occur. However, there are some more severe complications that can happen including:

  • Tooth decay
  • Damage to adjacent molars
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Permanent damage to the jaw bone
  • Cysts
  • Tumors (in very rare cases)

How are impacted wisdom teeth treated?

Once wisdom teeth start to come in incorrectly, they have to be removed before they cause more damage. If teeth have already made it through the gums, then the removal is straightforward, almost like removing any other tooth.

For more severely impacted teeth, surgery is required. The oral surgeon has to cut open the gum to get at the wisdom tooth. Sometimes, excess bone has to be removed that is blocking the tooth. Once there is a clear path, the oral surgeon removes the tooth, packs the open space with gauze, and sutures the wound together.

What complications can occur from surgery?

As with any surgery, there can be complications. The most common issues are: dry socket, where the wound doesn't properly heal; infection of the open socket; or even some tooth or nerve damage. 

Impacted wisdom teeth are a common problem that affect many people. If there is already mouth crowding, a person is much more likely to require wisdom teeth removal.