Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars in the very back of your mouth. These teeth typically come in during the late teen years or early adulthood.

If a wisdom tooth gets stuck under your gum or doesn’t have enough room to break through the gum, it’s considered “impacted.” Impacted wisdom teeth are more prone to disease, tooth decay, and other dental problems.

Read on to learn more about how dentists treat impacted wisdom teeth.

Some people with impacted wisdom teeth won’t notice any problems at all, while others will have obvious symptoms.

An impacted wisdom tooth might break through the gums, and part of the gums can be seen. This is called a partially impacted wisdom tooth.

A partially impacted wisdom tooth may cause food to become trapped and can make cleaning the tooth more difficult. For some people, a partially impacted tooth is very painful.

If the tooth becomes infected or causes other issues, you may have symptoms such as:

  • pain or swelling around the jaw
  • red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • bad breath
  • an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • problems opening your mouth

In other cases, the affected tooth may never break through the gums. This is known as a fully impacted wisdom tooth.

Generally, wisdom teeth become impacted because your jaw doesn’t have enough space for the teeth. Sometimes, the tooth grows in at the wrong angle, which can cause it to become impacted.

You may be more likely to have an impacted wisdom tooth if you:

  • are between the ages of 17 and 25
  • have a small jaw structure

There’s no way to prevent an impacted tooth, but good dental hygiene may help you avoid potential problems. Check out these 10 best practices for healthy teeth.

Your dentist can tell if your wisdom teeth are impacted by examining your teeth and taking a simple X-ray of your mouth.

An X-ray can show whether your teeth are impacted and if other teeth or bones are damaged.

If your teeth are impacted, you and your dentist will discuss the benefits and risks of surgery.

If your impacted wisdom teeth cause symptoms or dental problems, your dentist may suggest taking them out.

Surgery to remove wisdom teeth is usually an outpatient procedure. You can go home the same day.

A dentist or oral surgeon performs the operation, which is known as wisdom tooth extraction.

As part of the procedure, your doctor may use anesthetic drugs to induce a type of anesthesia, such as:

  • local anesthesia to numb your mouth
  • sedation anesthesia to relax you and block pain
  • general anesthesia to make you sleep and not feel anything during the procedure

During the procedure, the surgeon will make a cut in your gums and take out problematic bone before removing the tooth. They’ll close the incision with stitches and pack the space with gauze.

The entire surgery usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

If your teeth are fully impacted and buried deep within your gums or jawbone, it might be harder for your surgeon to remove them than if they’ve broken through the gum.

Most people can get back to their normal activities a few days after surgery. It takes up to six weeks for your mouth to completely heal.

You probably won’t be able to open your mouth normally for about a week, so you’ll need to eat soft foods.

After surgery, you may experience some pain, bleeding, and swelling. Your doctor will give you specific instructions for managing discomfort, such as taking pain medications and using cold compresses.

Although rare, you may develop a painful dry socket. This happens when the blood clot that’s supposed to form after surgery doesn’t form properly or becomes dislodged from the socket and exposes bone.

Some studies have suggested that having impacted wisdom teeth may lead to more pain and other problems after surgery. Learn more about recovery from wisdom tooth extraction.

If your impacted wisdom tooth doesn’t cause issues, your dentist might suggest leaving it alone.

There’s debate in the medical community over what to do with impacted wisdom teeth that don’t cause symptoms. Some dentists argue they should be removed to prevent future problems. Others suggest they should be left as is.

If you and your doctor decide to skip surgery, you’ll need to be monitored for any potential dental problems. It’s important to visit your dentist regularly and floss around your wisdom teeth.

Wisdom teeth are hard to clean, and food can get trapped in them. If a wisdom tooth isn’t removed, it can lead to certain problems, such as:

  • infection
  • cavities
  • decay
  • crowding of nearby teeth
  • difficulty flossing
  • damage to other teeth
  • cysts
  • gum disease

Because of these potential complications, some dentists will suggest surgery for impacted wisdom teeth, even if they don’t cause symptoms.

An impacted wisdom tooth might not cause any problems at all. If you do have symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Having your wisdom teeth removed while younger may lead to better results.

Talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about treatment options if your wisdom tooth is impacted.