Whether on a show or from our dentist, we’ve all heard the term ‘impacted tooth.’ Based on the term, it may bring to mind images of teeth broken by some impact on your mouth. Despite the obvious correlation between impacted and impact, that’s actually not what the term means. 

In fact, an impacted tooth is simply a tooth that has not fully broken through the gums (erupted).

Let’s explore that a little further.

Impacted tooth

Man With Beautiful Smile

The most common type of impacted tooth people deal with is when wisdom teeth come in wrong. This is why many people get their wisdom teeth removed. However, if teeth are misaligned or crowded, it can happen throughout the mouth, leaving a gap in your smile.

Why do teeth become impacted?

Without interference, a tooth should naturally erupt from the gums without a problem. However, there are two problems that can stop a tooth from erupting.

  1. There is not enough room to allow the tooth to erupt. This is often true of wisdom teeth, which come in last. However, it can also happen when teeth are out of alignment or are crowded.
  2. Teeth may also twist, tilt or otherwise become displaced as they are growing, so that they can’t fit into the gap that is left for them.

What are the symptoms of an impacted tooth?

Often, patients will come to the dentist without knowing they have an impacted tooth. Though they can cause issues if left, they are not always painful.

However, they can cause a misaligned bite if left too long. Partially emerged teeth are also harder to keep clean as the soft tissue around the tooth can trap food, plaque and other debris. If not removed, this can cause:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty opening the mouth (occasionally)
  • Pain or tenderness of the gums or jawbone
  • Prolonged headache or jaw ache
  • Redness and swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth
  • Swollen lymph nodes of the neck (occasionally)
  • Unpleasant taste when biting down on or near the area