Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Impacted tooth

An impacted tooth is a tooth that does not break through the gum.

Alternative Names

Tooth - unemerged; Unemerged tooth; Dental impaction; Unerupted tooth

Causes

Teeth start to pass through the gums (emerge) during infancy, and again when the primary (baby) teeth are replaced by the permanent teeth.

If a tooth fails to come in or emerges only partially, it is considered to be impacted. This most commonly happens with the wisdom teeth (the third set of molars). They are the last teeth to emerge. They usually come in between the ages of 17 and 21.

An impacted tooth remains stuck in gum tissue or bone for various reasons. The area may be overcrowded so there's no room for the teeth to emerge. For example, the jaw may be too small to fit the wisdom teeth. Teeth may also become twisted, tilted, or displaced as they try to emerge. This results in impacted teeth.

Impacted wisdom teeth are very common. They are often painless and do not cause problems. However, some professionals believe an impacted tooth pushes on the next tooth, which pushes the next tooth. Eventually, this can cause a misalignment of the bite. A partially emerged tooth can trap food, plaque, and other debris in the soft tissue around it, which can lead to inflammation and tenderness of the gums and unpleasant mouth odor. This is called pericoronitis. The retained debris may also lead to the decay on the wisdom tooth or the neighboring tooth.

Symptoms

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty opening the mouth (occasionally)
  • Pain or tenderness of the gums (gingiva) or jaw bone
  • Prolonged headache or jaw ache
  • Redness and swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth
  • Swollen lymph nodes of the neck (occasionally)
  • Unpleasant taste when biting down on or near the area
  • Visible gap where a tooth did not emerge

Exams and Tests

Your dentist will look for swollen tissue over the area where a tooth has not emerged, or has only partially emerged. The impacted tooth may be pressing on nearby teeth. The gums around the area may show signs of infection such as redness, drainage, and tenderness. As gums swell over impacted wisdom teeth and then drain and tighten, it may feel like the tooth came in and then went back down again.

Dental x-rays confirm the presence of one or more teeth that have not emerged.

Treatment

No treatment may be needed if the impacted tooth is not causing any problems.

Over-the-counter pain relievers may help if the impacted tooth causes discomfort. Warm salt water (one-half teaspoon of salt in one cup of water) or over-the-counter mouthwashes may be soothing to the gums.

Removal of the tooth (extraction) is the usual treatment for an impacted tooth. This is done in the dentist's office. Most often, it will be done by an oral surgeon. Antibiotics may be prescribed before the extraction if the tooth is infected.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Impacted teeth may cause no problems for some people and may not need treatment. Treatment is usually successful when it does cause symptoms.

Wisdom teeth removed before age 20 often have better results. This is because the roots are not fully developed. This allows for an easier removal and better healing. As a person ages, the roots become longer and curved. Bone becomes more rigid and complications can develop.

Possible Complications

Complications of an impacted tooth include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your dentist if you have an unemerged tooth (or partially emerged tooth) and you have pain in the gums or other symptoms.

References

Buttaravoli P, Leffler SM, eds. Dental pain, pericoronitis. Minor Emergencies. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 46.

Updated: 2/25/2014

Ilona Fotek, DMD, MS, Palm Beach Prosthodontics Dental Associates, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com