What is an Impaction?

What is an impaction

Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars to come in, and they can be quite troublesome. They have a tendency to get impacted – meaning they don’t erupt through the gums, but rather grow sideways or straight up into the jawbone. When this happens, it’s important to seek proper dental treatment right away so you don’t risk damaging your other teeth or having your gum tissue infected. Let’s explore different types of wisdom teeth impactions, their symptoms, and how impacted wisdom teeth are treated. 

Types of Wisdom Teeth Impactions

A wisdom tooth is one of the last set of molars to come in, typically around the ages of 17-25 years old. They can be quite troublesome because wisdom teeth have a tendency to grow sideways or even straight up into the jawbone. Wisdom teeth can also be partially or completely impacted, or trapped below the gums. 

Impacted wisdom teeth develop when they are unable to erupt into the maxilla and mandible properly. The most common cause for this is a lack of space in the dental arch. This means that as wisdom teeth erupt from the gums, they may not have enough room to go where they need to go, so they grow sideways or straight up instead. This can lead to damage to your other teeth if proper dental attention is not sought. There are different types of wisdom teeth impactions, such as: 

Mesial Impaction

types of wisdom teeth impaction

A mesial impaction is when the wisdom tooth is angled towards the front of the mouth. This type of impaction is also commonly known as an angled impaction. Most teeth impacted in this way are partially impacted, meaning that part of the tooth has erupted, while part of the tooth is still under the gums. This is the most common type of wisdom tooth impaction and may or may not require treatment. 

Distal Impaction

A distal impaction is another type of angular impaction, however it occurs when the affected tooth is angled towards the back of the mouth. This type of impaction is less common than a mesial impaction and is, in fact, the rarest type of wisdom tooth impactions. Most teeth impacted in this way are completely impacted, meaning that none of the tooth has erupted at all. However, there are also cases where the tooth may be partially erupted. In both cases, distal impactions usually require treatment. 

Vertical Impaction

A vertical impaction occurs when the tooth grows straight up, though sometimes it may grow out at a slight angle. In most cases, the impacted tooth will be completely impacted, meaning none or very little of it can be seen through the gums. Since teeth that are vertically impacted are in the correct position for eruption, they will usually be monitored closely. They rarely require treatment, unless the tooth fails to erupt, exerts too much pressure on the surrounding roots, or is expected to cause overcrowding. 

Horizontal Impaction

A horizontal impaction is when the tooth fails to erupt at all and becomes lodged sideways in the jawbone. When this happens, the impacted tooth will move sideways into the neighboring tooth roots. Horizontal impactions can cause severe discomfort and almost always require prompt treatment to minimize complications or damage to the surrounding tooth. 

Symptoms of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth

  • pain and swelling in the gums or jaw area
  • difficulty opening the mouth fully
  • an infection in the gums near where the wisdom tooth is trying to come through
  • a sharp, shooting pain when biting down on something hard (such as a spoon)
  • swelling beneath the surface of the skin that does not go away quickly after eating
  • pain in the jaw or lower cheek
  • yellow drainage from the gum around the impacted wisdom tooth

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is time to make an appointment with your dentist. 

Treating Impacted Wisdom Teeth

In most cases, a dentist will first monitor an impacted wisdom tooth closely before recommending treatment. Treatment for impacted wisdom teeth usually involves surgical extraction of the tooth, meaning the dentist will remove it using surgical tools. After the surgical dental extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth, your dentist will either suture or otherwise close the wound. You may experience some pain and swelling after surgery, but this should gradually improve over time and can be easily managed with over the counter medications. 

If you’re experiencing pain and discomfort as a result of impacted wisdom teeth, it’s important to seek prompt dental care. A surgical extraction is the most common treatment for impacted wisdom teeth- meaning your dentist will remove them using surgical tools. After surgery, you may experience some pain and swelling but this should gradually improve over time with medication like Ibuprofen or Tylenol. If these symptoms persist, contact your doctor immediately!

Dr. Sam Sadati wearing black suite portrait

Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry.  He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.