Wisdom teeth are also known as the third molars, the last teeth to grow in your jaw. They are located at the end of your upper and lower gums, right at the back of your mouth. Most people generally have four wisdom teeth, but you could also have zero. Do not be surprised, as it can vary from zero to four. But if your wisdom tooth gets stuck under your gum or does not find enough room to break through the gum – it is considered as impacted wisdom teeth.

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Impacted wisdom teeth are more prone to infection, disease, tooth decay, and other dental problems. In most cases, wisdom teeth normally appear in late adolescence or early adulthood, more precisely between the ages of 17 and 25 years. Wisdom teeth are also referred to as the third set of molars. 

When your wisdom tooth grows normally, it usually becomes a functional element of your oral cavity. At times there are cases when the eruption is not seamless, and your tooth becomes impacted.

Read on to learn more about how dentists treat impacted wisdom teeth.

What are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

The human mouth normally has 28 teeth, and there is not enough room for all the 32 teeth, which includes the four wisdom teeth. So if wisdom teeth do come through, they might cause crowding, infections, swelling and ear pain. 

Due to the change in the jaw structure over the years, your wisdom teeth do not have sufficient room to grow properly and hence are known as impacted wisdom teeth. These teeth do not fully erupt into the mouth.

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As a result, these teeth can grow in the wrong direction. Some are seen to come out sideways, at a wrong angle, or only partially. This can badly affect your nearby teeth. They may be painful and can damage the other teeth.

Even if no apparent damage occurs, as mentioned above, your teeth can become more susceptible to disease. If your tooth remains just under the gum, known as tissue impacted, bacteria can collect in the area. This in due course, can lead to infection.

However, for many of you, the wisdom teeth will eventually grow and settle down. There is no need to extract them as long as you practice good oral hygiene.

However, your might need wisdom tooth removal if:

  • There is pain, pressure, swelling and discomfort.
  • If it is clear that your teeth will not have room to grow or that they will cause damage to nearby teeth
  • The teeth are partially erupted and decayed. Thus making them harder to reach for cleaning.

Symptoms: Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Depending on how your teeth grow through, impacted wisdom teeth can have:

  • Vertical impaction: Your tooth does not break through the gum line.
  • Mesioangular impaction: Your tooth is angled towards the front of your mouth.
  • Distoangular impaction: In this case, your tooth is angled towards the back of your mouth
  • Horizontal impaction: Your tooth is angled sideways at a full 90 degrees. These teeth grow into the roots of the molar next to it.

Your impacted wisdom tooth can cause a range of problems. The pressure and the overcrowding can lead to the general crowding of your teeth. As a result you might need orthodontic treatments to straighten your crooked teeth.

In another scenario, your tooth might grow into a sac in the jawbone. The sac is filled with fluid creating a cyst. The cyst can damage your jawbone and the teeth and nerves nearby.

The second molar, next to your wisdom tooth, becomes more prone to infection if something is pushing against it. Even if your impacted wisdom teeth have no symptoms, it can damage other teeth.

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An infection could lead to bad breath, headache, earache, toothache, and a strange taste in your mouth. In addition, it can also lead to swollen gums, swollen jaw, bleeding gums and other dental problems.

More serious infections include cellulitis in the tongue, cheek or throat. Or even gingivitis, the gum disease that results when plaque irritates your gums.

To relieve symptoms, you can:

  • Use painkillers, but swallow them.
  • Use a salt water mouthwash of warm water with a teaspoon of salt in it, several times a day: This is very effective in reducing soreness and inflammation
  • You can use an antibacterial mouthwash.

If your pain continues, seek medical attention and talk to your doctor. 

Common Problems with Impacted Wisdom Teeth

1 Pain – The most common symptoms, pain occurs in most impacted wisdom tooth situations. When teeth grow waywardly, they often touch neighboring teeth and their roots. Wisdom tooth pain symptoms spread to the gums around your tooth, which may start to hurt. The pain could even be felt as far as the jaw.

2 Cleaning Issues and Increased Risk of Infections – Even before you notice a problem, there may be issues in your mouth. Wisdom teeth, due to their position, are harder to clean. Reaching the area with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss is much more difficult. Moreover, food can also get stuck between your crowded teeth. Bacteria from this trapped food could be enough to cause an infection or a tooth cavity. This could also lead to specific types of infections like pericoronitis and periodontitis.

3 Increased Risk of Tooth Decay and Cysts –  Your teeth will not get cleaned properly. It could be due to improper brushing or due to an unseen bacterial infection, then automatically, your teeth will enter the stage of tooth decay. 

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4 Damage to Nearby Teeth

Your wisdom teeth grow in all different angles. Some might grow straight and cause no issues. Many times they grow normally, but instead they could grow at an angle or even fully sideways. If your teeth grow crookedly, it can cause multiple types of damage to your mouth, especially when they push out into the roots of your neighboring healthy teeth. If this happens, you need to look for a solution to address the issue. 

Impacted Wisdom Teeth vs Erupted Wisdom Teeth

The moment your wisdom tooth cuts through the gum and shows up between the skin, it is termed as an erupted wisdom tooth. Meaning your teeth have emerged from the gum. The erupted tooth may appear perfectly in its position as usual, or it could develop crooked.

When you refer to an erupted wisdom tooth, you should note that an erupted tooth is one that has shown on the surface of the skin. This is not considered whether your teeth are correctly placed or not. If your wisdom tooth does not emerge properly, it increases your chances of getting an infection or dental issue.

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On the other hand, when your teeth do not emerge because there is not sufficient space for them to develop normally, then it is called an impacted tooth. When there is not enough room or the tooth develops in the wrong position, then the tooth is impacted. Although wisdom teeth develop in most people, only a very few of them experience perfect wisdom teeth.

Impacted teeth, in simple terms, mean that something is inhibiting its emergence. The wisdom tooth may be caught in your jaw, beneath your gums, or develop wrongly.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth Removal and Treatment

If you have impacted wisdom teeth that cause symptoms or dental problems, your dentist is the right person to decide whether to take them out. If your wisdom tooth is painful or troublesome, or if it is causing damage to other teeth or the jaw bone, it needs to be taken out. The angle at which your tooth erupts and the extent to which it might push other teeth will decide whether extraction is required. Surgery to remove your wisdom teeth is generally an outpatient procedure. You can go home the same day.

Your dentist or oral surgeon will perform the operation, which is known as wisdom tooth extraction. During the procedure, your doctor might use anesthetic drugs to induce anesthesia such as:

  • Local anesthesia to numb only your mouth.
  • Sedation anesthesia to relax you and block the pain.
  • General anesthesia to make you fall asleep so that you do not feel anything during the procedure.

During the procedure, your dentist will make a small cut in your gums and take out the problematic bone before removing the tooth. They will close the incision with stitches and pack the space with gauze. The entire surgery would only take about 60 minutes.

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In a scenario when your teeth are fully impacted and buried deep within your jawbone or gums, it might be harder for your surgeon to remove them. 

Impacted Wisdom Teeth Extraction – Post Surgery Care

Most people can get back to their normal activities a few days after extraction surgery. It generally takes up to six weeks for your mouth to heal completely. You would not be able to open your mouth normally for about a week. So you need to survive on soft foods.

After surgery, you might experience some swelling, pain and bleeding. Your doctor will give you specific instructions for managing discomfort. Those could be taking pain medications and using cold compresses. Sometimes you may develop a painful dry socket. This happens when the blood clot that was supposed to form after surgery does not form properly. 

A dry socket is the most common complication following tooth extraction. The condition exposes your nerves or bone to bacteria which might become painful.

The pain can gradually grow worse until you can feel it in the other places of your face. Due to dry sockets, you might have bad taste in your mouth.

Following the treatment, you need to strictly follow your dentist’s instructions. The regimen could include refraining from strenuous exercise and smoking. Avoid drinking from a straw until your area is healed. Your dentists might also suggest other measures to increase the healing process.