What Is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth and How Do You Know If You Have One?

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An impacted wisdom tooth can cause a myriad of problems. Here’s everything you need to know, including what an impacted tooth is, what its symptoms are and how you can treat it.

Wisdom teeth are the last of three sets of molars you get and they usually come in when you’re in your late teens or even early 20s — it’s presumed you’re a little wiser at this stage of your life, which is where the name comes from. Molars are the widest and strongest of your teeth and their function is to help chew up and grind food, aiding the digestive process by releasing more nutrition. But things don’t always go according to how nature intended and these teeth can become impacted. 

So what is an impacted wisdom tooth? 

As wisdom teeth are the final teeth to erupt, the jaws are already full of other pearly whites, and there can be problems. Often, when wisdom teeth are trying to break through the gum, there simply isn’t enough room for them to come in, because other teeth block them. In these circumstances, if they do manage to break through the jaw, they’re unable to settle into place and develop as they should — this means they’re impacted and issues could arise. 

Symptoms of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth

It’s possible to have an impacted wisdom tooth and no symptoms at all because the tooth has managed to come through to some extent and is not causing any problems. But it’s common for difficulties to arise with impacted wisdom teeth and you may experience one or more symptoms that lead you to believe you have a problem.

These symptoms can include tender or swollen gums that may be red or bleeding in certain areas.  You can also have pain and swelling along your jaw and a sudden bad taste in your mouth caused by a bacterial infection in the area around the impacted tooth. Some people with impacted teeth can also find it hard to open their mouth

Problems Caused by Impacted Wisdom Teeth

If impacted teeth are not quickly dealt with, a number of complications can arise. As they’re erupting through the gum, they may cause damage to existing molars and this can result in infection. Even if an erupting wisdom tooth causes no actual damage, they can make an overcrowded jaw even worse. This can mean you need orthodontic treatment (such as being fitted with a brace) to straighten out teeth that have become bunched up and crooked.  

Other problems caused by impacted wisdom teeth are gum disease and decay. Gum disease can develop because it’s difficult to clean the area around an impacted tooth, and food particles become trapped and a magnet for bacteria that thrive in the warm and moist environment of the mouth. This difficulty with cleaning impacted wisdom teeth can also make them more prone to decay. A cyst might form, if the wisdom tooth is unable to erupt and becomes trapped in the jawbone, requiring specific treatment to remove it.

Treatment for Impacted Wisdom Teeth

If you suspect you have an impacted wisdom tooth and have some pain or inflammation in the area, you may get some relief from over-the-counter pain medication, before you visit your dentist to find out what’s going on. 

If your dentist confirms you have an impacted tooth, they will likely recommend an extraction so the problem is solved and there’s no possibility of further such issues arising. To help prevent impacted teeth and the problems they cause, it’s beneficial to have six-monthly check-ups with your dentist so that they can see wisdom teeth developing and take any necessary action before they cause problems. 

You can get a full check-up — and an assessment of your wisdom teeth — at The James Clinic. Get in touch now and make an appointment.