An impacted tooth is a tooth that is positioned against another tooth, bone, or soft tissue. The position of the tooth makes it unlikely to fully erupt through the gums to reach its normal position in the mouth.
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An impacted tooth remains embedded in soft gum tissue or bone beyond its normal eruption time. The cause may be overcrowding. Other teeth may also become twisted, tilted, or displaced as the new teeth try to emerge.
Impaction typically occurs in the third molars, also called the wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth, which begin to develop around age 9, are most likely to impact because they are the last teeth to erupt, usually between the late teens and early 20s. By then, the jaw has stopped growing and may be too small to have room for these 4 teeth.
Impacted teeth are common. Factors that may increase your risk of impacted teeth include:
- Lack of orthodontic treatment
Some people with impacted teeth have no pain or other symptoms. In those who have symptoms, impacted teeth may cause:
- Redness and swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth
- Pain or tenderness of the gums or jaw bone
- Prolonged, unexplained headache or jaw ache
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Unpleasant taste when biting down
- Bad breath
Complications of untreated impacted teeth include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A dental exam will be done.
Dental x-rays will be done to confirm tooth impaction.
If an impacted tooth causes no pain, inflammation, or infection, and does not affect mouth alignment, no treatment may be needed.
If there are symptoms, surgery is recommended to remove all impacted teeth, preferably while the person is young. This may be done by a dentist under local anesthesia if the tooth is exposed and can be removed in 1 piece. For difficult extractions, a referral may be made to an oral surgeon. In these cases, general anesthesia or an IV sedative may be used.
Until surgery is scheduled, the following may be advised:
- Over the counter pain relievers to ease pain and swelling
- Gargling with warm salt water to soothe the gums
There are no current guidelines to prevent impacted teeth.
American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
Dental Hygiene Canada
Dental practice parameters: impacted/unerupted tooth. American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.ada.org/en/science-research/dental-practice-parameters/impacted-unerupted-tooth. Revised 1997. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Shah S, Kulkarni G. Guiding uninterupted teeth into occlusion: case report. J Can Dent Assoc. 2010;76:a147. Available at: http://www.jcda.ca/article/a147. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Wisdom teeth. Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/w/wisdom-teeth. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Wisdom teeth management. American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons website. Available at: http://myoms.org/procedures/wisdom-teeth-management. Accessed August 22, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 9/30/2014