Impacted wisdom teeth (also known as impacted third molars) is the failure of the wisdom teeth to erupt fully into the mouth because of blockage from another tooth. An impacted tooth is a tooth that gets blocked as it is pushing through the gum into your mouth (erupting). Wisdom teeth often are impacted.
Wisdom teeth usually begin to come in between the ages of 17 and 21. Dentists call these teeth third molars. Wisdom teeth likely become impacted because of a mismatch between the size of the teeth and the size of the jaw. Impacted wisdom teeth are classified by their direction of the impaction, depth compared to the biting surface of adjacent teeth and the amount of the tooth’s crown that extends through bone or mucosa. They may become impacted because there’s not enough room in your mouth for them. A wisdom tooth also might be trying to come in sideways. Or, it might be tilted in your jaw.
An impacted tooth can be painless. You may not even realize it’s there. However, when an impacted wisdom tooth tries to come in, the flap of gum on top of it can become infected and swollen. This can hurt. You might even feel pain in nearby teeth, or in the ear on that side of your face.
An impacted tooth can lead to an infection called pericoronitis. If untreated, this infection can spread to the throat or into the neck. Severe infections require a hospital stay and surgery.
If the wisdom teeth establish a communication to the mouth, pain can develop with the onset of inflammation or infection or damage to the adjacent teeth. Impacted wisdom teeth can also be classified by the presence or absence of symptoms and disease. A treatment controversy exists about the necessity and timing of the removal of asymptomatic, disease-free impacted wisdom teeth. Proponents of early extraction cite the cumulative risk for extraction over time and costs of monitoring to retained wisdom teeth. Advocates for retaining wisdom teeth cite the risk and costs of unnecessary operations.
Impacted teeth also can get cavities. An impacted tooth can push on the neighboring molar. This can lead to tooth movement, decay or gum disease. It also can change the way your teeth come together. Rarely, impacted teeth can cause cysts or other growths in the jaw.