You have 32 teeth. Or, at least, you’re intended to. But wisdom teeth are often stubborn, and become impacted. But what is an impacted wisdom tooth? What do we mean when we use the word, “impacted?”
Wisdom Teeth Defined
Before we discuss impaction, we need to know what exactly wisdom teeth are in the first place. Wisdom teeth are your potential third molars, one on each side, both top and bottom. They’re the last teeth to come in.
The theory holds that human jaws used to be larger and more able to accommodate these third molars. But now they often can’t emerge or develop as your other teeth do. In fact, some people don’t even have four wisdom teeth – and some have none.
What Is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?
When a wisdom tooth can’t come in normally, because of a lack of room or other cause, it’s called “impacted.” An impacted tooth can be twisted, tipped on its side, or displaced as it tries to make it out into your mouth.
Wisdom teeth can be impacted in several ways with varying degrees of impaction. The severity depends on how the teeth are positioned in your jaw.
Types of Wisdom Tooth Impaction
When your wisdom tooth’s crown penetrates through the bone but not the gum, the condition is called “soft tissue impaction.”
When part of the tooth comes in through the gum – but part remains stuck in your jawbone – it’s called “partial bony impaction.”
And, as you may have guessed, when the wisdom tooth remains in the jawbone, it’s called “complete bony impaction.”
Symptoms of Wisdom Tooth Impaction
In some cases, you may never feel your impacted wisdom teeth. They don’t always present symptoms. And, rarely, some people just don’t have wisdom teeth in the first place.
If you do experience symptoms, it’s usually due to infection or swelling in the gum around the tooth. Symptoms such as pain, swollen or bleeding gums, jaw swelling, or trouble chewing can be indicators of impacted wisdom teeth.
If you develop impacted wisdom teeth, make an appointment with your oral surgeon. If left alone, impacted wisdom teeth cause trouble. You risk gum disease and decay in the surrounding teeth if you avoid treatment. Even worse problems like cysts or infected teeth may occur with extreme neglect.
How Can I Avoid Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
See your dentist yearly. That’s the best advice anyone can take, whether or not you still have your wisdom teeth. But with annual or semi-annual X-rays, your dentist can catch problems before they start and refer you to your oral surgeon for wisdom teeth removal.