A tooth is considered impacted when it only partially grows through the gums. This can be because another tooth blocks it, or it grows in crookedly.
The third molar, which typically emerges from age 17 to 21, and is therefore the last tooth to appear, is the most likely to become impacted because there is usually no room left for it. The third molar can sometimes grow in at an improper angle, which can also aggravate the problem. Since wisdom teeth problems are largely caused by overcrowding, individuals with smaller jawbones are more likely to have impacted wisdom teeth.
An impacted tooth does not always lead to pain or discomfort. But there can be side effects of the impaction that lead to other problems. For example, a partially erupted tooth can create an opening in the gum where food and other particles can accumulate, leading to swelling and a gum infection.
Impacted teeth can also develop tooth decay, and they can also create issues by pushing on the adjacent teeth. This can, in turn, produce a sort of domino effect where an entire mouthful of teeth can shift position.
Symptoms and Treatment
If impacted wisdom teeth aren't actually creating a problem, the best course of action may be simply to keep an eye on the situation through regular dental visits. There may also be individuals with health or medical conditions that make wisdom tooth removal a risky procedure.
If the discomfort is minor, rinsing with a warm salt water solution can offer some relief. Alternately, Tylenol® or aspirin can help relieve pain and swelling.
If the pain or infection persists, the tooth will probably need to be removed. In some cases this can be done in your dentist's office. However, it is common for a patient with an impacted wisdom tooth to be referred to an oral surgeon. Some dentists recommend removing all the wisdom teeth preemptively in order to avoid future problems.
Many dentists recommend having wisdom teeth extracted before the patient reaches 21 because the surrounding tissue and bone tends to heal faster and more fully than if wisdom teeth are extracted later in life.
Another factor to consider is whether a child is going to need dental braces. If a child does need braces, it might be a good idea to remove the wisdom teeth first so that they don't emerge later and undo all the good work accomplished by the orthodontia.
Extracting an Impacted Tooth
To remove an impacted tooth, your dentist or oral surgeon will make an incision in your gum to expose the impacted tooth and jawbone. The tooth can then be removed with forceps. However, if the tooth is badly impacted it may be necessary to break it into pieces before removing it.
After the surgery it may be necessary to have stitches to close the incision in the gum. The empty tooth socket is packed with gauze to control bleeding and aid in the healing process.
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