When a tooth fails to emerge fully through the gums it is impacted. The most common teeth to become impacted are the wisdom teeth or the third set of molars. Since these molars are the last teeth to emerge the jaw may be too small and overcrowded causing them to remain embedded in the gum tissue or bone.
Impacted teeth can cause many problems despite the fact that they are often painless. Problems caused by impacted teeth include infection of the gums and tooth decay resulting from food and plaque trapped in the partially emerged tooth and surrounding gum tissue. Additionally an impacted tooth can push on the next tooth which in turn pushes on the next tooth causing a chain reaction that can result in jaw misalignment.
Symptoms of impacted teeth include pain or tenderness in the gums and/or jaw bone redness or swelling of the gums around the area bad breath or an unpleasant taste when biting down near the area a visible gap prolonged head neck or jaw ache difficulty opening the mouth or swollen glands of the neck.
Pain-relief medications salt-water gargles and mouthwashes may help to temporarily reduce pain caused by impacted teeth. However typical treatment is to remove impacted teeth a common procedure usually performed in a dental office under local anasthetic. Some difficult cases where the tooth is deeply impacted may require seeing an oral surgeon and having a general anasthetic for the procedure. If the area around the impacted tooth is infected antibiotics may be necessary prior to extraction to treat the infection. Generally to extract an impacted tooth it is necessary to cut through the gum tissue to expose the tooth and sometimes portions of the bone must be removed to free the tooth.
If impacted teeth are not removed possible complications include recurrent infection tooth/gum abscess malocclusion of the teeth chronic pain and plaque buildup. The removal of impacted teeth is a safe and common procedure and for the most part the area heals quickly with no complication. However potential complications include temporary numbness temporomandibular joint pain postoperative infection dry socket (a painful condition that occurs when a blood clot does not properly form in the empty tooth socket causing the bone to be exposed to air and food and resulting in a slower healing process) and in extreme cases fracture of the jaw.