Impacted Wisdom Tooth

What is a wisdom tooth? 
In the back of the mouth, most adults have three molars, the teeth used for grinding food, in each quadrant of their teeth (the upper and lower left and right). The rear-most tooth in each quadrant is called a “wisdom tooth,” because it emerges between the ages of 17 and 25, when one has presumably acquired a little wisdom. Anthropologists believe humans and their evolutionary predecessors evolved wisdom teeth as replacements for molars that were damaged from a rough diet of roots, leaves and raw meat.

What is an impacted wisdom tooth? 
Wisdom teeth usually crowd the adjacent molars when they start to emerge. When they don’t have enough room to emerge and grow normally, they are said to be impacted. They remain stuck in the jaw bone.

Impacted wisdom teeth can result in pain and damage to adjacent teeth, causing inflammation or infection. Because they can be hard to clean properly, wisdom teeth may be more likely to be subject to gum disease or cavities. (In some cases, wisdom teeth fully emerge, have enough room, function normally, require no treatment and are then treated just like any other tooth.)

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth:

* Bad breath
* Headache
* Pain
* Red or swollen gums
* Swelling around the jaw
* Tender or bleeding gums
* Unpleasant taste in the mouth

It should be noted that a wisdom tooth may not show any symptoms, yet still be impacted and even infected.

How are impacted wisdom teeth diagnosed? 
Impacted wisdom teeth can be diagnosed with visual inspection by a dentist. If the condition of the wisdom tooth is uncertain but impaction is suspected, the patient may be given a panoramic x-ray or CT scan to assess the condition of the tooth.

What is the standard treatment for an impacted wisdom tooth? 
The standard treatment for an impacted wisdom tooth is to extract it. This usually involves removing a small amount of the jaw bone surrounding the tooth, and then cutting the tooth apart and extracting it in pieces. (The patient will have first been given a local or general anesthetic.)

What can happen if an impacted wisdom tooth is not extracted? 
The pain will probably become worse. The tooth can become abscessed (infected all the way down to its root). The gums in the area of the tooth can become infected. Another problem is phantom taste perception, in which people have an unpleasant taste in their mouth, even though there is nothing in their mouth. Impacted teeth can actually cause blood clots in their vascular system, a very serious problem.

About the Author
Dr. Rabinowitz, DDS – A Frisco dentist for your family and cosmetic needs, serving North Texas for over 25 years. We believe in quality, care and integrity.


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