Impacted wisdom teeth — Learn about symptoms, complications and treatment of impacted wisdom teeth.
Impacted wisdom teeth are third molars at the back of the mouth that don't have enough room to emerge or develop normally.
Wisdom teeth are the last adult teeth to come into the mouth (erupt). Most people have four wisdom teeth at the back of the mouth — two on the top, two on the bottom.
Impacted wisdom teeth can result in pain, damage to other teeth and other dental problems. In some cases, impacted wisdom teeth may cause no apparent or immediate problems. But because they're hard to clean, they may be more vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease than other teeth are.
Impacted wisdom teeth that cause pain or other dental complications are usually removed. Some dentists and oral surgeons also recommend removing impacted wisdom teeth that don't cause symptoms to prevent future problems.
Wisdom teeth are the last of your teeth to appear (erupt) in the mouth. Sometimes a wisdom tooth becomes stuck below the surface of your gums (impacted), and grows at an odd angle, possibly causing complications.
Impacted wisdom teeth don't always cause symptoms. However, when an impacted wisdom tooth becomes infected, damages other teeth or causes other dental problems, you may experience some of these signs or symptoms:
See your dentist if you experience symptoms in the area behind your last molar that may be associated with an impacted wisdom tooth.
Wisdom teeth (third molars) become impacted because they don't have enough room to come in (erupt) or develop normally.
Wisdom teeth usually emerge sometime between the ages of 17 and 25. Some people have wisdom teeth that emerge without any problems and line up with the other teeth behind the second molars. In many cases, however, the mouth is too crowded for third molars to develop normally. These crowded third molars become trapped (impacted).
An impacted wisdom tooth may partially emerge so that some of the crown is visible (partially impacted), or it may never break through the gums (fully impacted). Whether partially or fully impacted, the tooth may:
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause several problems in the mouth:
You can't keep an impaction from occurring, but keeping regular six-month dental appointments for cleaning and checkups enables your dentist to monitor the growth and emergence of your wisdom teeth. Regularly updated dental X-rays may indicate impacted wisdom teeth before any symptoms develop.
Your dentist or oral surgeon can evaluate your teeth and mouth to determine if you have impacted wisdom teeth or if another condition is causing your problems. Such evaluations typically include:
If your impacted wisdom teeth are likely to be difficult to treat or if you have medical conditions that may increase surgical risks, your dentist will likely ask you to see an oral surgeon to discuss the best course of action.
If impacted wisdom teeth aren't causing symptoms or apparent dental problems, they're called asymptomatic. Some disagreement exists in the dental community about how to manage asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth. Research on this topic doesn't strongly favor one strategy over the other.
Some dentists and oral surgeons recommend removing asymptomatic wisdom teeth to prevent future potential problems. They argue:
Other dentists and oral surgeons recommend a more conservative approach. They note:
With a conservative approach, your dentist will monitor your teeth for decay, gum disease or other complications. He or she may recommend removing a tooth if problems arise.
Impacted wisdom teeth that are causing pain or other dental problems are usually surgically removed (extracted). Extraction of a wisdom tooth is usually required for:
Extraction is almost always done as an outpatient procedure, so you'll go home the same day. The process includes:
Wisdom tooth extractions may cause some pain and bleeding, as well as swelling of the site or jaw. Temporarily, some people have trouble opening their mouth wide due to swelling of the jaw muscles. You'll receive instructions for caring for wounds and for managing pain and swelling, such as taking pain medication and using cold compresses to reduce swelling.
Much less commonly, some people may experience:
The thought of having a tooth removed may be overwhelming, but delaying care can lead to serious and permanent problems. It's important to talk to your dentist about your concerns. Anxiety is common and nothing to be embarrassed about. Ask your dentist for suggestions on how to cope with your anxiety and discomfort.
Many dentists offer ways to ease your anxiety, such as listening to music or watching videos. You may be able to bring along a supportive family member or friend. You can also learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and imagery. If you have severe anxiety, talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about medications or sedative techniques that may help.
If you're experiencing symptoms or other dental problems that may indicate an impacted wisdom tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
Your dentist may ask you these questions: