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Impacted Teeth

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Tooth with Abscess

X-Ray of Mouth with Impacted Tooth

Alternative Names
unerupted tooth, partially erupted tooth

An impacted tooth is a tooth that has not fully erupted into the oral cavity through the jaw bone and gum tissue.

What is going on in the body?
There are several reasons for a tooth to remain imbedded in the jaw bone and gum tissue. This condition usually involves a wisdom tooth, or third molar, which may be prevented from eruption because of a lack of space. The second most common tooth that can become impacted is the canine, or cuspid.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
  • pain and swelling of the area
  • soreness when chewing
  • bad taste and breath odour
  • stiffness on opening the jaw
  • headache or jaw ache
  • swollen neck "glands," called lymph nodes
  • mild to moderate fever
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
  • Unerupted or partially impacted wisdom teeth are common in the teenage years. Often there is not enough room for the tooth to fully erupt, which may cause pressure, bite changes or debris entrapment around the unerupted tooth. This can lead to a swollen and painful condition of the tissue surrounding and covering the tooth called operculitis or pericoronitis. A bad breath odour and mild fever often accompanies this condition.
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Extraction of the impacted teeth before complications occur is the best way of treating impacted wisdom teeth. Impacted canines can often be treated by moving the teeth orthodontically

How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made by a dentist after discussing symptoms, doing a clinical examination and obtaining dental x-rays.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
  • A retained or unerupted tooth can, under certain circumstances, cause pressure on the other teeth and a change in the bite.
  • A rare complication is a cyst, which is a fluid sac, or tumour that forms in the tissue around the unerupted tooth.
  • If there are no symptoms or adverse signs on the dental x-ray, it is possible to leave some impacted teeth in place. The dentist makes this decision based on periodic x-rays to confirm that there are no hidden problems.
What are the treatments for the condition?
  • The treatment of choice is extraction of the impacted tooth. This may be delayed until infection is controlled.
  • Surgical drainage of a local area of infection may be necessary before the extraction can be scheduled.
  • A general dentist may refer the patient to an oral surgeon specially trained in extracting impacted teeth.
  • Analgesia may be necessary before and after treatment.
  • Antibiotics may be necessary, but should only be taken as prescribed by the doctor or dentist.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
If any of the following conditions persist after the extraction, a dentist should be consulted immediately:
  • pain
  • bleeding
  • swelling
  • drainage of pus
  • difficulty in opening the mouth
  • difficulty in swallowing
  • numbness
Author: Marvin Goldfogel, DDS
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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