An impacted tooth is a tooth that does not emerge into the dental arch in the usual time frame. Unless the impacted tooth is extracted surgically, it will remain impacted throughout the person’s lifetime. A tooth may become impacted because of excessive soft tissue, adjacent teeth, a genetic abnormality or a dense overlying bone. If left in the mouth, some impacted teeth can become infected or damage neighboring teeth, leading to numerous oral problems. 9/10 people have at least one wisdom tooth that is impacted.
An impacted tooth can lead to all sorts of symptoms that impact oral hygiene. It can create swelling and redness of the gums in the area around the impacted tooth, and can cause bad breath. An impacted tooth may make it difficult for you to open your mouth. It can create a prolonged and explained jaw ache or headache. It can also cause tenderness or pain of the jaw bone or gums, especially in the area of the impacted tooth. Occasionally the lymph nodes of the neck may swell up, and biting down near or on the area of the impacted tooth might cause an unpleasant taste. There may also be a visible gap in the spot where the tooth did not come through.
Teeth begin to emerge and pass through the gums during infancy. These are considered baby teeth, and are eventually replaced by permanent teeth. In either case, if a tooth does not emerge, it is called “impacted”. Of all the teeth, it’s usually the wisdom teeth which in turn become impacted, though others can as well. Impacted teeth can be caused in numerous ways. Sometimes the area is overcrowded, and there is no spot for a tooth to come through. For example, the jaw might be too tiny to fit a wisdom tooth. As a tooth tries to emerge, it may become tilted, twisted, or displaced, and unable to come through the gum tissue. This can also result in an impacted tooth. Sometimes a tooth becomes partially emerged, but does not come all the way through. This partially emerged tooth can ensnare plaque, food, and other waste, causing tenderness and inflammation of the gums to occur. This condition is called pericoronitis. Pericoronitis also causes unpleasant mouth odor.
Unfortunately, an impacted tooth cannot be prevented. Impacted teeth are very common however, and can be taken care of or removed easily. If the tooth is partially emerged, performing good oral hygiene can help keep the tooth clean and prevent cavities.
There are two different ways to deal with an impacted tooth. The first way is through treatment.
An impacted tooth may cause minor irritation, which can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers. It can also be treated by rinsing with warm salt water. Placing a half teaspoon of salt into a cup of water and rinsing can help reduce irritation and inflammation. If an impacted tooth becomes infected, continues to generate pain, or hampers other teeth, even after using salt water or pain relievers, it can be removed by a dentist or oral surgeon. Removing an impacted tooth is a fairly simple procedure that takes around 30 minutes to an hour depending on the severity of the impaction and location of the tooth. Dentists or oral surgeons may use sedation techniques or anesthesia to make sure you are comfortable, although this is not always necessary. During the procedure, your oral surgeon or dentist will make a cut in your gums before removing any bone that limits access to the tooth. They then remove the tooth and close the wound with stitches and pack it with gauze. Following the surgery, your cheeks and jaw may be swollen and you have may have difficulty eating some foods. You will be given multiple gauze pads to change out the gauze and will probably be given prescription pain-killing medication. The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons has more information about impacted teeth.