What Does Impaction Mean?

As we approach summer, we know what that means for many of our high school and college students: wisdom teeth extraction!  Most people want to take advantage of a school break to complete this dental procedure that requires at least a few days of downtime afterward.  When it comes to wisdom teeth, many people are familiar with the term “impaction” or “impacted” without fully understanding its meaning or implications for the treatment.  In this week’s blog, we’ll explain what you need to know.

Are All Wisdom Teeth “Impacted”?


Some may assume that because wisdom teeth have not yet made their way into the mouth by pushing through the gums (a process called eruption), that means they are impacted.  This is a false assumption.  Just because wisdom teeth have not yet come into the mouth doesn’t mean they will not.

Impaction of a tooth is a condition in which the tooth cannot and will not erupt into its appropriate position in the dental arch.  Not all wisdom teeth are impacted.  Some have the space and the proper angulation that allows them to fully erupt into the correct spot in the mouth. 

Are Only Wisdom Teeth “Impacted”?


Impaction is a condition that can affect any tooth in the mouth.  We actually see it commonly with upper canines and lower premolars.  Some cases of impaction occur because a tooth is “blocked out” and cannot come into the right position.  In others, the tooth develops within the jawbone at such an unusual angle that it would never move into the right spot (on its own…).

When wisdom teeth are impacted, the solution is almost always extraction.  When other teeth, like canines or premolars, are impacted, we often attempt to move them into the right position or move other teeth out of the way to allow normal eruption.  This is because wisdom teeth are notoriously problematic throughout life.  They are hard to clean and contribute very little to chewing function.  In contrast, canines and premolars are essential to a beautiful smile and proper chewing function.

Why are Impacted Teeth a Problem?

Impaction often leads to a condition in which a tooth is partially erupted.  This means that only a portion of the tooth breaks through the gums without complete emergence.  The resulting partial coverage of gum tissues allows for the buildup of plaque in the pocket of gums, which can cause cavities and gum disease, as well as a painful condition called periodontitis.

Impacted teeth are a problem because they can damage the neighboring teeth and the surrounding tissues.  Impacted wisdom teeth, in particular, tend to lean into the second molars just in front of them.  This pressure over time can lead to a dissolving force on the second molars’ roots and actually causes some people to lose that tooth as well as the impacted wisdom tooth.

Impacted teeth toward the front of the mouth cause orthodontic problems for the surrounding teeth.  These orthodontic problems aren’t simply cosmetic.  They can lead to speech impediments and mental health issues.

Do All Impacted Teeth Require Extraction?


In rare cases, it is better to leave an impacted tooth in place within the jawbone.  Even though impaction can lead to certain dental problems, sometimes the removal of an impacted carries too much risk.  The most common scenario in which this is true is when the roots of a fully developed wisdom tooth are in contact with the major nerve in the lower jaw.  Many people say the roots are “wrapped around the nerve”, but actually, all it takes for permanent damage to the nerve is any contact.

The great news is that the advancement in dental imaging that allows us to see the jaws in three dimensions means your surgeon can see exactly how close the tooth’s roots are to the nerve.  In a two dimensional image, it may appear that the roots contact the nerve, and a 3D image shows that there is actually space between the root and the nerve. 

More Questions about Teeth Impaction?

Do you or a loved one have wisdom teeth needing extraction?  If you are not sure about the need for extractions or the state of your wisdom teeth, call Prosper Family Dentistry today at 972-347-1145.  Dr. Jill, Dr. Cara and Dr. Summer can prepare a 3D image of your jaws and assess the exact situation of each wisdom tooth present.  We are happy to answer any questions you have and help you get the right treatment. 

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