Impacted Wisdom Teeth

When a wisdom tooth is blocked from erupting or coming into the mouth normally, it is termed "impacted." A tooth may only be partially impacted, meaning it grows in crooked and breaks through the gum only partially, or it may be totally impacted.

Nine out of ten people have at least one totally impacted wisdom tooth resulting from a lack of space in the mouth. Partially impacted teeth can lead to such problems as pain, infection (fig. a) and crowding of, or damage to, adjacent teeth (fig. b). In the case of totally impacted teeth, more serious problems can occur if the sac that surrounds the impacted tooth fills with fluid and enlarges to form a cyst (fig. c).This enlargement can hollow out the jaw and result in permanent damage to the adjacent teeth, jawbone and nerves. In rare cases, if the cyst is not treated, a tumor may develop from the walls of the cyst and a more involved surgical procedure may be required to remove it.

Many problems with wisdom teeth can occur with few or no symptoms, so there can be damage even without your knowing it. A recent study sponsored by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation finds that wisdom teeth which have broken through the tissue and erupted into the mouth in a normal, upright position may be as prone to disease as those wisdom teeth that remain impacted.