Impacted Wisdom Teeth – How Does It Happen?

Dr. Christopher Li Etobicoke - Li Family Dental

By Dr. Christopher Li

March 29, 2022

impacted wisdom teeth, wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth are located at the very back of your gums. As your “third molars,” they are also the very last teeth to “erupt.” Because of their location and late arrival, it is very common for them to have difficulty breaking through the gums due to a lack of space.

As a result, they might remain under the gums in varying states which leads to impacted wisdom teeth. Here we look at wisdom teeth, how they get impacted, and why it is very common for your dentist to recommend extraction.

Why Are Wisdom Teeth So Troublesome?


Wisdom teeth are actually a result of our ‘caveman’ days when we needed more molars to contend with eating things like raw meat. Interestingly, as we evolve, more and more people don’t have wisdom teeth at all. They also appear relatively late in life compared to the rest of your teeth, with the average wisdom tooth starting to cause trouble in the mid-teens, and as late as the age of 25 for some.

In rare cases, it can start as early as the age of 12. As the last ones to come to the party, they face space issues, which can make it difficult for them to erupt. As a result, they can grow in at odd angles putting pressure on your second molars, and not being able to break through the gums due to their position. This is how they become impacted.

Do All Wisdom Teeth Get Impacted?


No, some people have no problems with their wisdom teeth. Whether they make an appearance or come straight up through the gums, a lucky few don’t have any symptoms associated with impacted wisdom teeth and are unaware their wisdom teeth even exist. However, more people than not can experience varying degrees of impaction, whether it is the molars growing facing the back or front, lying on their side, or simply being stuck in the gums or jawbone. This is why it is important for children and teens to see the dentist twice a year for checkups, as your dentist needs to monitor wisdom teeth so they can decide if treatment is required.

Common Symptoms Of Impacted Wisdom Teeth


At a certain age you may begin to experience common symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth including:

  • Pain in your gums or jaw
  • Difficulty opening or shifting your jaw from side to side
  • Red, swollen gums near your back molars
  • Ongoing pressure and discomfort near your back molars

Some people can also get infections at the site, which can intensify symptoms and also cause issues such as neck pain, facial pain, headaches, and earaches.

How Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth Treated?


Impacted wisdom teeth are treated by removing them. Impacted wisdom teeth surgery is a procedure requiring an incision in your gums. This exposes the tooth and jaw bone so your dentist can remove the wisdom tooth and its roots. Although this might seem extreme, it is the only way to avoid ongoing infections and damage to your gums, bone, and other teeth. You are kept comfortable during the procedure with numbing agents and sedation.

Once the teeth are extracted the site is stitched up and it takes about two weeks to completely heal. You will need to eat soft foods for a few days and can gradually introduce normal foods as the site heals. Your jaw will be stiff and difficult to open and close during the early stages of your recovery. However, once your teeth are removed, you will no longer suffer from the symptoms of the impaction, and also never worry about damage to your other teeth.

Why Is Extraction Recommended?


When wisdom teeth are impacted, they can lead to serious issues. Therefore, extraction is very important especially if you are experiencing painful and dangerous infections of the gums. Infections can get into your bloodstream and make you very sick. Your back molars can be affected by infections, but infection can also cause cellulitis, a serious and unpleasant infection that can attack your cheek, tongue, or throat.

There are also other possible issues from impacted wisdom teeth, including:

  • Tooth Damage and Crowding: The pressure from your wisdom teeth puts pressure on your second molars which can lead to damage. It can also cause pain and lead to crowding as your second molar then applies pressure to your other teeth.
  • Cysts: Cysts are sacs filled with fluid. They can develop on the jawbone, damaging your bone, teeth, and nerves.
  • Tooth Decay and Gum Disease: In the case where your wisdom tooth manages to erupt partially, it increases the risk for tooth decay for your second molar. The pressure and crowding caused by the ill-fitting or misshapen tooth also make it difficult to keep the area clean. This increases the risk for not just tooth decay, but also gum disease for both the wisdom tooth and second molar.
  • Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Issues: Because wisdom teeth put pressure on your jaw, it can lead to TMJ issues including pain, and issues opening your mouth or shifting your jaw from side to side.

You may also experience unpleasant issues such as chronic bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth. If you suffer from crowding your dentist could recommend orthodontic treatments to help reverse issues caused by shifting. Extraction will relieve all your pain including headaches while reducing the risk for other serious issues.

Are Only Impacted Wisdom Teeth Extracted?


No. Your dentist will monitor your wisdom teeth even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms associated with impacted wisdom teeth. This is because, although your teeth might not be impacted, even if they grow in completely and are straight, they can still put pressure on your other teeth. They are also vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease because they are hard to reach. In these cases, your dentist might still recommend extraction to avoid dental issues.

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Dr. Christopher Li

About the author

Doctor Christopher Li, DDS
Dr. Chris, as he is affectionately known, is a licensed dentist with over 20 years experience. His caring personality makes even the most tentative person at ease. Patients are constantly commenting about how Dr. Chris is incredible at delivering pain-free freezing, and how he has an amazing chair-side manner.  Dr. Chris loves sharing information with his patients and everyone who has teeth about how to care for their teeth, avoid tooth decay, and the treatments available to help them overcome their tooth pain or other dental issues so they can enjoy life and food to its fullest!

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