Known as your “third molars”, your wisdom teeth are the last of your adult teeth to come through, typically appearing during your late teens or early adult years.
While some people will develop all four wisdom teeth, others have three, two, one or even none at all. Wisdom teeth are located at the very back of your mouth - two at the top and two at the bottom.
Your wisdom teeth may come through (known as “erupting”) with no issues at all. However, if there isn’t enough room for the wisdom tooth to break through the gum, it’s considered “impacted”.
As impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain, discomfort and more serious dental problems, it’s important to know what to look out for, so you can see your dentist and determine if you need wisdom teeth removal.
Read on to discover what an impacted wisdom tooth is, the symptoms to look out for, and how your dentist can treat an impacted wisdom tooth.
What are the symptoms of an impacted wisdom tooth?
While some people with impacted wisdom teeth experience discomfort, others won’t have any issues at all.
An impacted wisdom tooth can sometimes break through the gums, leaving part of the tooth visible. This is known as a partially impacted wisdom tooth. When a wisdom tooth is partially impacted, it can cause food to become trapped and may cause pain or infection, and make cleaning the tooth more difficult.
If the tooth becomes infected or causes other issues, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- 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 impacted wisdom tooth won’t break through the gums at all, which is called a fully impacted wisdom tooth.
What causes an impacted wisdom tooth?
Impacted wisdom teeth usually occur because they are either coming through the gum at a strange angle, or because there simply isn’t enough room in the mouth for it to come through properly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything you can do to avoid getting impacted wisdom teeth, as it’s mostly genetics and luck that determine their growth.
That said, with regular check ups and x-rays, your dentist will usually be aware of the potential issue before it occurs. They can then offer treatment plans depending on your circumstances.
How is an impacted wisdom tooth diagnosed?
Your dentist will be able to spot an impacted wisdom tooth by examining your teeth and taking an x-ray of your mouth. This will also show whether any other teeth or bones are damaged as a result of the impacted tooth.
If your dentist identifies an impacted wisdom tooth, they’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action to address the issue.
How is an impacted wisdom tooth treated?
If your impacted wisdom tooth is causing symptoms resulting in pain or discomfort, or if it could lead to more serious dental issues, your dentist is likely to recommend having the tooth or teeth removed. This is known as wisdom tooth extraction.
Just like removing any other tooth, wisdom tooth extraction can usually be performed at your dental practice and you’ll be able to go home the same day. Your wisdom tooth extraction will likely take place under local anaesthetic, which will ensure you don’t feel any pain but will remain awake. Your dentist may also recommend a sedative to keep you comfortable.
If your wisdom teeth are severely impacted - or in cases where there are other complications - your dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon to have the extraction procedure performed at a hospital under general anaesthetic. This may also be a preferable option for patients who are very nervous about the procedure.
What happens after wisdom tooth removal?
While it can take up to six weeks for your mouth to heal completely, most people will be able to return to their normal activities within a few days of their wisdom tooth removal.
Your dentist will provide you with personalised post-op instructions so you know what to expect and how to manage any symptoms. It’s normal to experience jaw swelling, pain and some bleeding after your surgery - you can use ice packs to reduce discomfort, as well as over-the-counter pain medication.
Following your wisdom tooth removal, you should aim to drink plenty of water, avoid smoking, vaping, or drinking out of a straw, and opt for soft foods to reduce pain and irritation. You’ll also need to avoid hot food and beverages for the first 24 hours.
In rare cases, some people will develop a condition called dry socket. This typically occurs 1-3 days after your wisdom teeth extraction, with symptoms including:
- Severe pain that worsens and isn’t alleviated by pain medication
- Pain that radiates on the side of your face where the extraction was performed
- A bad taste or unpleasant odour in your mouth
- Visible bone in the mouth
If you experience any of these symptoms after your wisdom tooth surgery, it’s important to contact your dentist right away.
For information and advice on impacted wisdom teeth, chat to the team at your local National Dental Care practice. Find your nearest dental practice online now.