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A young mixed-race woman smiles while waiting in a clinic.A young mixed-race woman smiles while waiting in a clinic.

Impacted Tooth: Signs, Causes, and Complications

By: BeSeen Team

Date: June 16, 2023

Some cultures believe that wisdom teeth are a sign of good fortune, intelligence, or maturity. That’s well and good, but luck can’t ward off an impacted tooth, most cases of which are hereditary. 

An impacted tooth can happen even at a young age, like when a baby tooth makes way for a permanent one. Sometimes it doesn’t even come with discomfort or pain. Is it better to leave it alone if that’s the case? How does tooth impaction happen in the first place? And what are the signs apart from pain? Find the answers below. 

What Is an Impacted tooth? 

Teeth development works on a schedule. First, the milk teeth emerge (or erupt in dental terms) at six months old. Then, the baby teeth shed as the permanent teeth come in around age six. By age 21, a full set of adult teeth will amount to 32 teeth in total (or 28 after wisdom teeth extraction). This includes incisors, canines, premolars, molars, and wisdom teeth. 

A tooth becomes impacted when it doesn’t or cannot erupt at the expected time. Instead, it grows in the wrong direction, horizontally or vertically and too close to another tooth. It can also come out at an angle, trapped in the gum or pushing the tooth beside it. 

Causes of Tooth Impaction

The exact cause of tooth impaction remains unknown. Genetics can play a role – it can happen to you if your parents have it. But the topic still needs extensive research to pinpoint the exact cause. 

Apart from genetic predisposition, dentists consider dental crowding another risk factor since it leaves no room for new teeth to emerge or erupt. Overcrowding can happen with a small jaw or when the jaw stops developing right when the teeth are due to appear. 

Children may develop an impacted tooth when a permanent tooth becomes trapped within the gum tissue. One common cause, says the American Association of Orthodontists, is the delayed loss of a baby tooth, which prevents the permanent tooth from emerging. 

Obstructions such as cysts can also impede the path of the permanent tooth, which becomes trapped in the gum. 

Signs of an Impacted tooth 

A pencil points at the site of an impacted tooth on a panoramic X-ray image.
A panoramic X-ray helps dentists see an impacted tooth clearly and diagnose whether an extraction surgery is needed.

In most cases, impacted teeth have no symptoms, and dentists discover them during routine X-rays. However, neighbouring teeth can suffer damage to their roots when a permanent tooth fails to erupt entirely or comes up in the wrong direction. Or impacted teeth can cause already erupted teeth to shift into unhealthy alignments. 

These conditions can lead to tooth sensitivity and risks of tooth decay and gum disease without treatment. Signs of impact tooth to look out for: 

  • Difficulty opening the mouth 
  • Pain or tenderness on the gums 
  • Redness and swelling of the gums
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bad breath 

Any tooth can become impacted, although it frequently involves the wisdom teeth or their third molars, the last to erupt. If it’s an impacted third molar, you may notice the following: 

  • Sore and red gums
  • Persistent pain and bleeding in the mouth
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Breathing challenges 

You can check your children for impaction by paying close attention to their teeth on both sides of the mouth. For example, there might be an impaction if a tooth on one side of the mouth has fallen out, but the other on the opposite side shows no signs of budging. 

Complications of an Impacted Tooth

If left untreated, an impacted tooth can lead to the following:

  • Gum disease
  • Infection
  • Oral abscess
  • Chronic oral discomfort
  • Trapped plaque

Treatment Options for an Impacted Tooth 

Many people discover their impacted tooth when they visit the dentist for pain. At this stage, a dentist may suggest tooth extraction, particularly for an impacted wisdom tooth. The operation may take an hour, with recovery up to 10 days, depending on the severity of the condition. 

Some cases require what dental health professionals call “eruption aids”, also known as pontics. These may include brackets, metal braces, or invisible aligners like ClearCorrect. Dentists typically prescribe eruption aids for younger patients whose teeth need a little help to erupt (i.e., forced eruption through a pontic site). However, the dentist must remove the tooth if it still becomes impacted. 

Is It OK to Leave an Impacted Tooth?

A male dentist explains a procedure with a female patient in a dental clinic.
In Australia, available data shows 37% of dental emergency visits to public hospitals are due to dental infections.

You shouldn’t ignore the impacted tooth because of the lack of pain. Your dentist must monitor it to prevent cavities, tooth abscesses, and gum disease. 

How serious is an impacted tooth? Some cases of impacted teeth can lead to a dentigerous cyst. This sac develops when fluid accumulates between the impacted tooth‘s crown and the outer layer of enamel. The cyst may not cause pain until it becomes infected and requires surgery. 

Since an impacted tooth can push others out of position, it can affect how the upper and lower rows fit together. It can cause teeth misalignment or malocclusion, such as an open bite or a lateral crossbite. These can cause changes in facial appearance and hurt self-confidence. 

Pain shouldn’t be a sign of going to the dentist. Dental checkups provide timely dental care and preventive measures to fend off trouble. Regular dental visits also allow for professional cleanings that keep your teeth and gums in optimal condition. 

Don’t wait for the symptoms of an impacted tooth to escalate or interfere with your quality of life. Instead, take control of your dental well-being by scheduling regular dentist appointments. Invest in your oral health today for a radiant smile tomorrow. 

 

References: 

Australia, O. (2022, January 5). How Can Orthodontics Help to Treat Impacted Tooth? Orthodontics Australia. https://orthodonticsaustralia.org.au/impacted-tooth/ 

Australian Society of Orthodontists. (2011). Impacted & Ectopic Canines. Brighter Futures. https://www.aso.org.au/sites/default/files/uploaded-content/field_f_content_file/brighter_futures_-_impacted_and_ectopic_canines.pdf 

Baum, A. (2022). What Is An Impacted Tooth? American Association of Orthodontists. https://aaoinfo.org/whats-trending/what-is-an-impacted-tooth/ 

Deepa, K., Jannu, A., Kulambi, M., & Shalini, H. S. (2021). A case of dentigerous cyst in a pediatric patient – With an insight into differential diagnostic entities. Advances in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 3, 100130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adoms.2021.100130 

Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Wisdom teeth. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/wisdom-teeth 

Malocclusion of teeth: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001058.htm 

Smith, K. W., Kruger, E., & Tennant, M. (2006). A four-year retrospective study of adult hospitalization for oral diseases in Western Australia. Australian Dental Journal. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1834-7819.2006.tb00449.x 

Ullah, M., Irshad, M., Yaacoub, A., Carter, E., Thorpe, A., Zoellner, H., & Cox, S. (2023). Dental Infection Requiring Hospitalisation Is a Public Health Problem in Australia: A Systemic Review Demonstrating an Urgent Need for Published Data. Dentistry Journal, 11(4), 97. https://doi.org/10.3390/dj11040097 

Wisdom teeth – Australian Dental Association. (n.d.). Teeth.org.au. https://www.teeth.org.au/wisdom-teeth 

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