What is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?

What is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?

Wisdom teeth, the third and final set of molars, emerge at the back of the mouth in the average person between the ages of 17 and 25. What is an impacted wisdom tooth? Impacted wisdom teeth occur when third molars are not able to emerge correctly. In most cases, the underlying cause of this very common problem is a lack of sufficient room in the jaw for wisdom teeth to develop appropriately. That lack of space can cause wisdom teeth to become trapped, unable to emerge through the gum tissues. Impacted wisdom teeth should be removed as soon as possible, since leaving them in place can lead to a range of dental problems and other complications.


A fully impacted wisdom tooth may be trapped beneath the soft tissues of the gum or impacted beneath bone tissue in the jaw. In partial impaction, the tooth does not emerge completely, leaving part of its crown covered with gum tissue. Soft-tissue impactions – both partial and full – generally occur when the tooth develops at an odd angle, becoming twisted, tilted or displaced as it attempts to emerge in an over-crowded jaw. Bony impactions happen when the wisdom tooth is blocked by bone as it attempts to emerge.

Impacted wisdom tooth symptoms can include headaches, jaw pain, gum inflammation and/or bleeding, and infection – which may cause bad breath, a strange taste in the mouth and, in some cases, fever. Complications of an impacted wisdom tooth can include damage to adjacent teeth, which occurs when impacted teeth press against them, crowding that can cause other teeth to shift, and the development of cysts or tumors around impacted teeth, which can cause damage to the jawbone and nearby nerves. Additionally, a partially impacted wisdom tooth is often prone to decay, causing dental problems and increased risk of gum disease, as plaque, bacteria, food debris and other contaminants become lodged in the areas in which the tooth is covered by gum tissue.


While an impacted wisdom tooth may cause any combination of the symptoms listed above, many occur with no symptoms at all. However, even when there are no obvious symptoms, complications can be gradually developing, unseen under the surface of the gum tissue or bone in which impacted teeth are encased. For that reason, it is very important that wisdom tooth development is monitored by your dentist, via X-Rays or 3-D imaging, allowing potential problems to be caught early and treated appropriately. The only effective means of treating an impacted wisdom tooth and preventing the dental problems and complications it can cause is wisdom teeth removal. Additionally, sooner is better, since wisdom teeth removal typically easier and less traumatic when it is done in the early stages of tooth and root development.