What are impacted teeth?

An impacted tooth is a tooth that, for some reason, has been blocked from breaking through the gum. Sometimes a tooth may be only partially impacted, meaning it has started to breakthrough.

Oftentimes, impacted teeth cause no obvious symptoms and are only discovered during a routine X-ray at the dentist’s office.

Read on to learn more about impacted teeth and when you need to do something about them.

Symptoms of impacted teeth

You may not experience any symptoms in some cases. In other cases, an impacted tooth may cause:

  • red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • bad breath
  • a bad taste in your mouth
  • difficulty opening your mouth
  • pain when opening your mouth, or when chewing and biting

Symptoms may come and go over weeks or months.

What causes an impacted tooth?

In general, a tooth becomes impacted when your mouth doesn’t have enough space for it. This can be the result of genetics or orthodontic treatment.

Which teeth are most often impacted?

Wisdom teeth, which are usually the last teeth to grow in — typically between the ages of 17 to 21 — are most typically impacted.

By the time that wisdom teeth — also known as “third molars” — come in, the jaw has often stopped growing. The mouth and jaw may thus be too small to accommodate them. Because there’s no real need for wisdom teeth anymore, they’re typically removed if they’re a problem. If you have a small jaw, you’re more likely to have impacted wisdom teeth.

The second most common teeth to be impacted are the maxillary canines, also referred to as the cuspid or upper eyeteeth. Because these teeth play a more important role in your mouth, your doctor is more likely to recommend treatments that encourage these teeth to erupt instead of removing them.

How are impacted teeth treated?

If you suspect you have an impacted tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible. They can examine your teeth and take an X-ray of your mouth to determine if an impacted tooth is causing your symptoms. If it is, they can discuss the benefits and risks of treatment.

Treatment options may include:

Waiting and monitoring

If your impacted tooth isn’t causing any symptoms, your dentist may suggest a wait-and-see approach. With this approach, instead of surgically removing the tooth, your dentist will regularly monitor it so that they can see if any problems develop.

This will be easy to do if you go in for regular dental checkups.


Eruption aids

When the canine teeth are impacted, eruption aids may be used to get the tooth to erupt properly. Eruption aids may include braces, brackets, or by extracting baby or adult teeth that may be blocking the canines. These methods are most effective when performed on younger people.

If eruption can’t be achieved, then the impacted tooth will need to be removed and replaced with a dental implant or bridge.

Complications of impacted teeth

Since fully impacted teeth never break through the gums, you won’t be able to clean or care for them. But if your tooth or teeth are partially impacted, they’ll be more difficult to clean properly. This puts them at a higher risk for dental problems, including:

  • cavities
  • decay
  • infection
  • crowding of nearby teeth
  • cysts, which can damage roots of nearby teeth or destroy bone
  • absorption of bone or adjacent teeth
  • gum disease