When an adult tooth is unable to grow fully into the mouth– so that it can chew against another tooth and be kept clean—, it is said to be impacted. Reasons that teeth become impacted include lack of space in the jaw and misalignment, such as when a tooth is rotated out of position. Impaction can also be caused when a neighboring tooth shifts abnormally into the place where a tooth should go.
If not properly treated, impacted teeth can lead to a variety of oral health problems. Common complications of untreated impacted teeth include the following:
- Infection in the tooth or gums
- Crowding of the other teeth
- Chronic pain or discomfort
- Cyst formation
- Cavity formation in an adjacent tooth
Wisdom teeth (third molars) usually form between the ages of fifteen and twenty and are located in the back of the mouth. Since they are the last teeth to develop, they may not have enough room to grow into the mouth and become fully functional teeth that can be cleaned and maintained. To prevent the complications that can arise from impacted wisdom teeth, they are commonly removed.
Sometimes teeth that are important to normal chewing function such as the upper canine (eye) teeth can become impacted. Provided that there is space for them come into the mouth, an oral surgeon can surgically expose these important teeth so than an orthodontist can guide them into a normal functional position. An orthodontic exposure procedure involves the creation of an incision in (and sometimes the removal of) the gum tissue that is covering the impacted tooth in order to expose the hidden tooth underneath. If there is a baby tooth still present, it is removed at the same time. Once the tooth is exposed, an orthodontic bracket is bonded to the exposed tooth’s crown. At this point, an orthodontist can begin the process of moving the tooth into its proper position. This can take up to a year to complete.
If you have an impacted tooth or impacted teeth, it is important to see an oral surgeon as soon as possible. An experienced oral surgeon can discuss the treatment options available and determine the best course of treatment to protect your teeth and prevent the complications that can result from impacted teeth.