What are Impacted Wisdom Teeth? Signs & Symptoms

wisdom tooth pain

An impacted wisdom tooth is one that fails to erupt. A wisdom tooth can be partially or fully impacted, and because they fail to fully come in, they pose more risks than normal third molars. While impacted wisdom tooth surgery can be daunting, it’s arguably even more important than surgery to remove non-impacted molars. So let’s take a look at the below-the-surface nature of impacted wisdom teeth: causes, symptoms and treatment:

Why Are Some Wisdom Teeth Impacted?

If you’re wondering why this is such a common problem, it’s often because over the course of modern human history, our lower jaws have shrunk significantly. Things like overbites and problems with wisdom teeth never used to exist. In fact, 60% of the world still doesn’t have this issue – it’s the industrialized societies where kids grow up on soft foods that this third set of molars has become such a problem.

But that’s not the only reason you might have one or more impacted wisdom teeth. Other causes include:

  • Improper angulation: The third molars may not be angled correctly to erupt into the mouth. They may be angled too far forward, too far back, or sideways.
  • Bone overgrowth: Bone tissue can grow over the impacted tooth, preventing it from erupting. In this case, the wisdom tooth root will often get “tangled” in the jaw, so it can’t rise.
  • Cyst or tumor: In some cases, a cyst or tumor can grow around the impacted tooth, preventing it from erupting.

Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Some wisdom teeth erupt just fine, and they’re simple to remove. But an impacted tooth is a bit more complicated. Here are a few signs you have an impacted wisdom tooth:

  • Tender, inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Difficulty making basic mouth movements like opening and closing
  • Jaw pain and/or swelling
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth

Because your dentist monitors your teeth and jaw via yearly x-rays, the good news about all things wisdom teeth is that nothing’s ever a surprise on extraction day. Your dentist often refers you to an oral surgeon pre-eruption, anyway, so these complications don’t have time to develop in the first place.

Why Do I need Impacted Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Impacted wisdom teeth may never cause any symptoms or problems. But they might, even if it’s not until years down the line. The reason oral surgeons perform wisdom teeth extractions is more preventative than anything, because it’s way easier to remove wisdom teeth at age 18 than age 35.

Here are some health issues impacted teeth can cause to help understand why you should get them checked out and removed, even if you don’t currently have any symptoms:

  • Tooth misalignment: A tooth is impacted because it has no room to erupt. Instead, it will move at an angle, pushing other teeth around and potentially damaging them.
  • Risk of cavities: If your gums are inflamed, it can leave pockets between the teeth and gums, making hygiene difficult and increasing risk of bacterial infection.
  • Sinus problems: Your oral and olfactory (sinus) systems are intricately linked. Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pressure and pain, as well as chronic congestion.
  • Jaw damage: Since the tooth can’t erupt, as it tries to move cysts can form around it. These can get bad enough to wear away the jaw bone as well as cause nerve damage.

What is Surgery for Impacted Wisdom Teeth Like?

Well, that depends. An impacted wisdom tooth removed early and with no signs of infection or interference with other teeth might not be any more complicated than a typical wisdom tooth extraction. However, if you have complications like wisdom tooth roots lodged in the jaw, a tumor, or active infection, there may be other factors to the extraction procedure, like:

  • Osteotomy: The oral surgeon cuts into the jaw to remove bone overgrowth.
  • Dental graft: The oral surgeon applies a bone graft to the damaged area of the jaw.
  • Excision: The oral surgeon removes a tumor, cyst or abscess.
  • Root canal: If another tooth has become infected due to the impacted wisdom tooth interfering with it, the oral surgeon may choose to do a root canal on the tooth to prevent having to remove it in the future.


The good news is, none of these extra steps will make the recovery process lengthy – it’s still a 1-2 week experience. But a more invasive surgery will likely result in increased swelling and discomfort as compared to a typical wisdom tooth extraction. Luckily, Wilmington Oral Surgery offers a comprehensive, holistic pain management system for oral surgery recovery – a 10-day homeopathic program that replaces the need for opioids, speeds healing, and reduces inflammation and pain.

For more on wisdom teeth, check out our guide to wisdom tooth extractions.

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