A wisdom tooth is a set of molars that grow in the back (top and bottom) of our mouth. They start to break out during the teens, and generally, each individual has four wisdom teeth. However, in some cases, a person may have more than four or fewer. Impacted wisdom teeth are those that do not have enough room to grow. They can either grow sideways or come out in the wrong direction/angle, causing immense toothache. They can also affect the nearby teeth due to crowding or infection.
Below we have covered all the details you need to know about impacted wisdom teeth, including the causes, symptoms, complications, prevention and treatments.
1. What is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?
While some people may not experience any pain, for others, wisdom tooth pain can be unbearable. A wisdom tooth is also known as the third molar, and when impacted, it can grow in the wrong direction/angle, sideways or partially. This can trigger pain, and individuals may also have swelling around the gum area. Wisdom tooth infection is usually seen in partially-grown wisdom teeth. It can become infected due to the presence of bacteria in the mouth, which can cause further damage to the teeth.
2. Causes of Impacted Wisdom Tooth
Lack of sufficient room to grow is the major cause why a wisdom tooth gets impacted. Wisdom teeth generally emerge/erupt between the age of 17 to 25. When only the crown of the tooth is visible from the gums, it is known as a partially impacted tooth. Whereas, molars that never break through the gums are referred to as fully impacted wisdom teeth.
An impacted wisdom tooth can cause problems if:
- It grows at an angle that tilts towards the neighbouring tooth, overcrowding it due to limited space.
- It grows towards the back of the mouth.
- Vertical or horizontally impacted wisdom teeth that stay trapped within the jawbone can also cause a problem.
3. Impacted Wisdom Teeth Symptoms
An impacted wisdom tooth can cause a lot of issues as the pressure to grow and overcrowding may lead to serious orthodontic problems. The tooth can get infected as it is difficult to clean the tooth if the food gets trapped in it. Some of the signs of impacted wisdom teeth are:
- Swollen, red bleeding gums
- Pain and swelling around the jaw
- Difficulty in chewing food
- Bad breath
- Difficulty in opening your mouth
- Bitter and unpleasant taste
4. Complications Caused by Impacted Wisdom Tooth
- Damage teeth: While growing towards the neighbouring teeth, the impacted tooth can damage the structure of other teeth. Pushing towards the next tooth can harm it and cause infection around that area. It could lead to more bacteria in the mouth, which leads to infection. It can also cause immense tooth pain or inflammation of the gums or swelling around the jaw. Here, removing the impacted tooth is the best option to prevent damage to the other teeth.
- Cysts: When the wisdom tooth develops in the sac of the jaw, it can be filled with fluids. This can lead to the formation of cysts that can harm the jawbone, teeth and nerves in your mouth. When such complications arise, the dentist may remove the tissue and the bone.
- Tooth decay: Since a partially impacted wisdom tooth is harder to clean, it leads to the build-up of more bacteria. This increases the risk of tooth decay, which needs to be treated post-haste.
- Gum disease: With the build-up of bacteria, the wisdom tooth infection may worsen and cause a painful gum disease known as pericoronitis. It commonly affects the lower teeth and gum area leading to inflammation and swelling/bleeding of gums. It can also cause a burning sensation and redness around the gums.
5. How can you diagnose an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?
For diagnosis, a dental X-ray is recommended by the dentist. This provides them with a clear picture of the damage and helps them identify if the damage extends to other teeth or bones. Four types of impacted wisdom teeth can be diagnosed through the dental X-ray.
- Fully impacted: This type of impacted wisdom tooth is the most difficult to remove as it is completely stuck inside the jaw.
- Partially impacted: This involves the tooth being partially stuck inside the jawbone.
- Soft-tissue impacted: This is the least complicated wisdom tooth to remove. It is only stuck under the gums, which makes the process of removing it easy.
- Erupted: The impacted wisdom teeth removal for a fully erupted tooth is easier and involves less pain.
6. Impacted Wisdom Tooth: Treatment and Removal
The most common treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is tooth extraction. The impacted wisdom teeth surgery is quite straightforward and is carried out in the dental clinic. Local or general anaesthesia is used to numb the area around the infected tooth and surrounding tissue. The dentist may cut or make an incision through the surface of the gum to remove any bone that may come in the way. During the tooth extraction procedure, the dentist may also cut the tooth in half to avoid injury to the bone, tissue or nerve.
In recent times, the dentist usually advises removing the wisdom tooth before it can damage your teeth or cause any complications. This helps maintain your oral health and keeps your teeth healthy.
After the procedure, you might experience bleeding and swelling. The dentist will prescribe pain medication, and to reduce swelling, apply ice to the affected area.
7. Recovery After Impacted Wisdom Teeth Surgery
Following the impacted wisdom teeth removal/extraction surgery, you can go home the same day. It might take up to 3-4 days to fully recover after the surgery. If the damage was severe (in the case of a fully impacted tooth), the recovery may take a week or more. If stitches are used to close the wound, the dentist will guide you on the proper after-care procedure.
- As you won’t be able to open your mouth fully or chew anything hard, a diet of cold liquid and soft food is recommended.
- Also, ensure to not touch the expose area and avoid brushing your teeth for the first 24 hours.
- An open wound is more prone to infection, so avoid chewing from the side where the tooth is extracted.
- The dentist may also recommend some exercises to alleviate pain and release tension from your jaw and mouth muscles.
More importantly, note that while you may recover from the tooth extraction procedure in a few days, the wound may require at least 6 weeks to heal. So, follow the after-care procedure as directed by your dentist to avoid infection.
While there is no way to prevent an impacted wisdom tooth, your dentist can monitor the growth of the wisdom tooth through regular dental check-ups. Professional teeth cleaning can also limit bacterial growth in the mouth, thereby keeping your teeth healthy. Also, periodic dental X-rays can help track early signs and symptoms of wisdom teeth.
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