An impacted tooth is a tooth that, for some reason, has been blocked from breaking through the gum. Sometimes a tooth may be only partially impacted, meaning it has started to break through.

Oftentimes, impacted teeth cause no obvious symptoms and are only discovered during a routine X-ray at the dentist’s office.

Read on to learn more about impacted teeth and when you need to do something about them.

You may not experience any symptoms in some cases. In other cases, an impacted tooth may cause:

  • red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • bad breath
  • a bad taste in your mouth
  • difficulty opening your mouth
  • pain when opening your mouth, or when chewing and biting

Symptoms may come and go over weeks or months.

In general, a tooth becomes impacted when your mouth doesn’t have enough space for it. This can be the result of genetics or orthodontic treatment.

Which teeth are most often impacted?

Wisdom teeth, which are usually the last teeth to grow in — typically between the ages of 17 to 21 — are most typically impacted.

By the time that wisdom teeth — also known as “third molars” — come in, the jaw has often stopped growing. The mouth and jaw may thus be too small to accommodate them. Because there’s no real need for wisdom teeth anymore, they’re typically removed if they’re a problem. If you have a small jaw, you’re more likely to have impacted wisdom teeth.

The second most common teeth to be impacted are the maxillary canines, also referred to as the cuspid or upper eyeteeth. Because these teeth play a more important role in your mouth, your doctor is more likely to recommend treatments that encourage these teeth to erupt instead of removing them.

If you suspect you have an impacted tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible. They can examine your teeth and take an X-ray of your mouth to determine if an impacted tooth is causing your symptoms. If it is, they can discuss the benefits and risks of treatment.

Treatment options may include:

Waiting and monitoring

If your impacted tooth isn’t causing any symptoms, your dentist may suggest a wait-and-see approach. With this approach, instead of surgically removing the tooth, your dentist will regularly monitor it so that they can see if any problems develop.

This will be easy to do if you go in for regular dental checkups.

Surgery

If you’re experiencing pain and other unpleasant side effects from an impacted tooth, your dentist may recommend extraction surgery, particularly in the case of impacted wisdom teeth. They may also recommend extraction if the impacted tooth will have a negative effect on other teeth.

Tooth extraction surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure at an oral surgeon’s office, meaning you can go home the same day you have the procedure. The procedure usually takes 45 to 60 minutes, and you’ll likely be put under local anesthesia. Recovery may take 7 to 10 days, but you should be able to return to work or school within a few days of having the procedure.

Eruption aids

When the canine teeth are impacted, eruption aids may be used to get the tooth to erupt properly. Eruption aids may include braces, brackets, or by extracting baby or adult teeth that may be blocking the canines. These methods are most effective when performed on younger people.

If eruption can’t be achieved, then the impacted tooth will need to be removed and replaced with a dental implant or bridge.

Since fully impacted teeth never break through the gums, you won’t be able to clean or care for them. But if your tooth or teeth are partially impacted, they’ll be more difficult to clean properly. This puts them at a higher risk for dental problems, including:

  • cavities
  • decay
  • infection
  • crowding of nearby teeth
  • cysts, which can damage roots of nearby teeth or destroy bone
  • absorption of bone or adjacent teeth
  • gum disease

If you have pain from an impacted tooth, you may be able to use over-the-counter medication to provide temporary relief. Aspirin has been found to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate tooth pain. However, aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 18, because it can increase their risk for Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition.

Ice may also help by reducing inflammation, or you can try swishing warm salt water around your mouth, which can relieve pain. Or try one of these 15 home remedies.

If your pain is severe and you can’t find relief from home remedies, your doctor may prescribe a pain reliever. Even if home remedies help with your pain, you should still talk to your dentist. Pain relief treatments should only be used in the short term. If an impacted tooth is causing pain, it will likely need to be surgically removed or treated using other medical interventions.

Impacted teeth aren’t always a problem, and in some cases, there’s no need to treat them. Other times, however, they must be removed to prevent infection, damage to other teeth, or other complications.

Regular dental checkups from an early age can help your dentist identify impacted teeth early on and offer a treatment plan when necessary.