Wisdom teeth is the term used to describe the third molars that start to erupt during the late teen years into the early twenties. Although they served an important purpose in our evolutionary past, our skulls have evolved to be smaller in size. As a result, many people end up needing their wisdom teeth extracted.
One common reason for having wisdom teeth extracted is because they are often impacted. Impaction refers to teeth that are stuck over the jawbone, but under the gum line. Wisdom teeth can be either partially or fully impacted. Partial impaction refers to teeth that have partially erupted from the gum line, but still have other parts below the gum line. Full impaction refers to teeth that have never broken through the gum line.
Wisdom teeth impaction can cause pain, swelling, gum irritation, and even infection. To prevent infections, it is important to see your dentist as soon as possible if you think your wisdom teeth are impacted.
Besides being partially or fully impacted, there are three different types of wisdom teeth impaction that can occur, including:
Angular impaction describes a tooth that is angled from 1-90 degrees. Teeth while a small angle may be closely monitored, while teeth that are closer to 90 degrees will likely be extracted to prevent damage to the surrounding teeth, bone, and gums. Depending on the direction of the angle, angular impaction can be further classified as mesial or distal. Mesial angular impaction is the most common type of impaction and it usually occurs as partial impaction. With mesial impaction, the tooth is angled towards the front of the mouth. Distal angular impactions, on the other hand, are the least common type of impaction. With distal impactions, the tooth is angled towards the back of the mouth.
Horizontal impaction describes a tooth that is completely horizontal, or parallel, to the gum line. Most cases of horizontal impaction are fully impacted. Out of all the types of impaction, this is the most painful because the horizontal wisdom tooth is constantly applying force to the molar next to it. For this reason, horizontal impacted wisdom teeth will need to be extracted as soon as possible. Otherwise the wisdom tooth will keep pushing against the surrounding molar. In addition to being extremely painful, this can also cause severe damage to the molar being pushed.
Vertical impaction describes a tooth that is vertical or almost vertical in position. Since this is the proper position for eruption, this type of impaction may not require extraction. However in cases where the tooth is pressing into the tooth next to it, or if there is excess pressure being exerted on the tooth’s roots, extraction may be needed.
As you can see, there are various ways your wisdom teeth may become impacted. Most of these impactions occur because there is simply not enough room in the modern human skull for a third molar. While this is unfortunate because of the symptoms it causes, the good news is that all the symptoms can be most likely alleviated by the extraction of the impacted wisdom tooth. To learn more, see our page on “Tooth Extractions”.
Dr. Chris Vinson and Dr. Kristie Vinson attended the College of Dentistry at The University of Oklahoma. Dr. Chris Vinson has earned a fellowship from the Misch International Implant Institute and a fellowship in International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is also certified to administer Oral and IV sedation to his patients through The Montefiore College of Medicine in New York and is Teeth-Express and Invisalign certified. Dr. Kristie Vinson is trained in sedation dentistry, Botox, and dermal fillers. She received a Fellowship from the Misch International Implant Institute and the Fellowship in International Congress of Oral Implantology. She is also Teeth-Express and Invisalign Certified.