There are few oral health issues that can be as painful or disruptive to daily life as impacted wisdom teeth. Although the pain of impacted wisdom teeth is often enough to let you know that something is wrong, it is still important that you are able to identify the issue as early as possible. Impacted wisdom teeth can be detected early using an x-ray and can usually be identified by your dentist before they begin to cause debilitating pain. Any patient with impacted wisdom teeth will begin to notice a few symptoms that will become more severe as the condition worsens. We take a look at what causes impacted wisdom teeth, and what warning signs you should be on the watch for.
What is an impacted wisdom tooth?
An impacted wisdom tooth is a tooth that gets blocked as it pushes through the gum into your mouth. Wisdom teeth become impacted more commonly than any other teeth. Wisdom teeth usually begin to come in between the ages of 17 and 21. Dentists call these teeth ‘third molars.’
They may become impacted because there’s not enough room in your mouth for them. A wisdom tooth also may try to come in sideways or, it may be tilted in your jaw. An impacted tooth can be painless, and 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 be painful. 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. Impacted teeth also can get cavities. The tooth can push on the neighboring molar which 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 too.
What are common warning signs of impacted wisdom teeth?
- Throbbing pain in the back of the mouth: When wisdom teeth become impacted, it causes a great deal of pain, particularly as the condition worsens. You may notice pain radiating from the back of the mouth, particularly focused on the area around the wisdom teeth and other molars. This pain will get worse as the surrounding teeth begin to become affected.
- Swollen, tender and bleeding gums: Impacted wisdom teeth can cause serious gum issues. The gums may become swollen and tender to the touch. They may start to bleed when pressure is applied, making flossing and brushing both painful and difficult. If you notice your gums becoming swollen and tender, impacted wisdom teeth could be to blame. However, these could be symptoms of other issues, like gum disease, so it is important that you see your dentist immediately for a proper diagnosis.
- Swelling around the jaw: Impacted wisdom teeth are often accompanied by swelling of both the gums and jaw. It can be subtle at first but can worsen quickly to the point that it can become painful or difficult to open your mouth.
- Swollen glands in the shoulder and neck: Impacted wisdom teeth are often accompanied by swollen glands in the shoulder and neck. This combined with other symptoms is a telltale sign that you might be experiencing impacted wisdom teeth and should speak to your doctor right away.
- Headaches: Impacted wisdom teeth can cause headaches of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw and skull. This pain may radiate to other areas of the head and face as well.
How are impacted teeth treated?
You can sometimes relieve minor irritation by rinsing with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water). Over-the-counter pain relievers also may help. If the tooth continues to cause pain, is infected or interferes with nearby teeth, the usual treatment is to take it out. Extracting one tooth can take 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the tooth’s location. In some cases, an infection requires antibiotics. Patients are often referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to have an impacted tooth removed. Before removing the tooth, your dentist or surgeon will discuss the procedure and the type of anesthesia and sedatives he or she will use. You will not be able to eat for six hours before surgery. If you take any medicines, keep on schedule with them. Someone should drive you to the appointment and drive you home.
After the surgery you may have swelling of the cheeks and jaw. It may be hard to eat certain foods. Follow your dentist’s or surgeon’s instructions carefully for the best recovery. Complications of surgery are rare but do occur.
An impacted tooth may not bother you or affect nearby teeth. In this case, you won’t need immediate treatment. However, your dentist probably will recommend that the tooth be taken out to avoid future problems. Many people have all four wisdom teeth taken out at once. Sometimes this surgery is performed before the teeth have started emerging from the gums, in order to prevent future issues. This is usually done in an oral and maxillofacial surgeon’s office with sedation and local anesthesia. Often, it is better to have your wisdom teeth taken out before you turn 21. Before this age, the surgery is typically less complicated and the tissue and bone tend to heal faster.
Do you have questions about impacted wisdom teeth? Call Hartnett Dental to schedule an appointment with your dentist today! (716) 649-6633.