Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that generally come in between the ages of 17 and 25. These four teeth are generally the last to emerge in adults, but what does it mean for wisdom teeth to be “impacted?” Impacted wisdom teeth are those that do not have room to develop normally or fully erupt through the gums. Nine out of 10 people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth, and if left untreated, impacted teeth can damage neighboring teeth, become infected and even transfer bacteria into the bloodstream. Regular dental appointments can help monitor and manage wisdom teeth.
What Are the Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
Impacted wisdom teeth symptoms can vary from person to person. For some, there are no symptoms at all, with the impacted teeth only being discovered via an X-ray. But for many, these hidden teeth can cause serious trouble, including infections that lead to:
- Jaw pain
- Swollen, tender or bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Discomfort when opening mouth
- Unpleasant tastes in the mouth
Impacted wisdom teeth also can cause a variety of other problems, including tooth decay, cysts and excessive pain. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it is vital to visit an oral and maxillofacial surgeon so he or she can assess the situation and plan appropriate treatment.
Wisdom teeth can be impacted and show no symptoms, but it is important to remember that “pain-free” does not mean “disease-free.” The third molar area of the mouth can be difficult to clean, making it an environment that invites bacteria leading to gum disease. Oral bacteria also can enter the bloodstream and lead to potential systemic infections and illnesses.
How to Treat Impacted Wisdom Teeth
Because impacted wisdom teeth are difficult to care for while inside the gums, surgery is often necessary to remove the problem teeth and prevent future issues before they happen.
- Wisdom teeth surgery is usually an outpatient procedure performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon using anesthesia.
- Most patients experience pain and bleeding for only a few days after extraction.
- Full tooth extraction healing time can take up to six weeks.
- Pain medication and cold compresses help lessen pain and swelling.
- While healing, patients will need to be conscious of what they eat after surgery, favoring soft foods that will not irritate their swollen gums.
- It is often better to have wisdom teeth extracted when a patient is younger, as the third molars have incomplete root systems and the surrounding jawbone is softer.
- The results of wisdom tooth removal are permanent.
If a patient decides to keep his or her wisdom teeth, the teeth must be monitored regularly by an OMS, and X-rays should be taken annually to ensure there is no health risk.