Impacted Wisdom Teeth: Types, Causes, And Possible Risks

Most people know that wisdom teeth are the third molars seen in the back of your mouth. What you may not know is wisdom teeth can cause serious problems if they’re impacted- meaning they don’t have enough space to erupt from the gums.

It’s not uncommon for people to develop impacted wisdom teeth. It’s so common that many people don’t even realize they have them until they experience pain or other problems.

This blog post will outline the signs and symptoms, different types of impacted wisdom teeth, their causes, and some associated risks. We’ll also discuss some common questions people ask about wisdom tooth impaction. So, keep reading to learn more.

What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

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Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars or the last adult teeth that erupt in the back of the mouth. Most individuals have four wisdom teeth, two on the upper jaw and two on the lower jaw.

These teeth develop between the ages of 17 and 21, and they are called wisdom teeth because they come in at a time when people are considered to be old enough to have “wisdom.”

If your third molars develop and erupt without problems, they can be left in place. However, removal may be necessary if they erupt partially or are stuck underneath the gums. Unerupted wisdom teeth are called “impacted”; they can be painful as they grow in an abnormal position.

The space between the gums and impacted wisdom teeth can trap food and bacteria, which may lead to problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, and infections. Additionally, impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain and damage to other teeth. For these reasons, it is important to have your wisdom teeth checked by a dentist to determine if they need to be removed.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of An Impacted Wisdom Tooth?


When impacted wisdom teeth are not causing any problems, they often don’t cause symptoms. However, due to continuous growth and development, these impacted teeth may suddenly undergo changes and cause problems. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Redness of the gums
  • Swollen gums where the wisdom tooth is erupting.
  • Jaw pain
  • Bleeding or tenderness of the gums.
  • Difficulty opening your mouth.
  • Difficulty chewing on the affected side.
  • Damage to adjacent teeth.
  • Severe pain or discomfort.


What Are The Different Types Of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?


There are four different types of impacted wisdom teeth, and each kind corresponds with their position in your mouth:

Mesial impaction.
It is the most common type, wherein the wisdom tooth is tilted towards the second molar which is in front of it. As a result, it pushes the second molar, increasing the risk of infection and root damage.

Vertical impaction.
This type of impaction happens when the wisdom tooth is coming in a relatively correct position but isn’t able to emerge fully through the gum line due to insufficient space in the mouth.

Horizontal impaction.
The wisdom tooth is lying entirely on its side and trapped below the gums. This impaction is often painful and is more susceptible to infection or damage to nearby tooth roots because of its pressure against the second molar of the tooth in front of them.

Distal impaction.
The opposite of mesial impaction, distal is the rarest type and occurs when the wisdom tooth is tilted toward the back of the mouth. They may be partially or fully impacted.

What Is The Difference Between Soft Tissue Impaction And Hard Tissue? 

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Soft Tissue Impaction

A soft tissue impaction occurs when the crown of the tooth grows through the jawbone but is left stuck in the gums. This can happen when a tooth is only partially erupted, meaning it has not entirely emerged in the mouth.

When a tooth partially hides under the gums, it becomes difficult to clean leading to food particles and bacteria getting stuck between the tooth surface and the gums over it.

Hard Tissue Impaction

Hard tissue impaction is also often called “bony impaction”. It describes an impacted tooth that is still within the jaw bone. During surgery, even after incising and opening the gums, a tooth with hard tissue impaction is still not visible as they are still within the bone.

Since the wisdom tooth is completely covered and cannot break through the jawbone and gums due to an obstruction, removing them is more difficult since removal of bone is necessary.

What Are The Causes Of Impacted Wisdom Teeth?


A small jaw structure can make individuals more susceptible to having impacted wisdom teeth.

Humans commonly have 32 teeth, four of which are the last to develop. When you have a small mouth, it is more likely that your jaw lacks enough space to accommodate all teeth. It may impede the eruption of wisdom teeth, causing them to be stuck under the gums, and only some part of its crown is visible (partially impacted), or it may not be able to break through the gums or bones at all (fully impacted).

What Is Wisdom Tooth Removal?


Wisdom tooth removal is a surgical procedure to extract one or more third molars positioned at the back corners of your mouth, both on the top and bottom, depending on the case. Dentists perform the removal of wisdom teeth, and they use anaesthesia to numb the affected area and help the patient to be comfortable during the entire process.

If your dentist recommends wisdom tooth extraction, they will take a dental x-ray to see the structure of your mouth and jawbones. This helps them determine how to carry out a suitable treatment plan for an individual case.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Wisdom Tooth Removal?


Generally, recovery from wisdom teeth removal may take three to four days. Otherwise, in cases where an impacted wisdom tooth requires surgical removal, it could take one to two weeks to recover.

During this healing period, you may have a swollen mouth and cheeks that may be worse for the first few days but should eventually improve. Applying a cold pack to the affected area can help to reduce the swelling. Other side effects such as a sore jaw should subside within seven to ten days. Additionally, you may expect the pain and discomfort to be worse if the extraction is complicated.

The recovery period varies from case to case, so it’s best to get more information from your dentist to give you an estimated timeline based on your individual circumstances.

Is It Necessary To Remove Impacted Wisdom Tooth?

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While some wisdom teeth can grow in a straight or normal position and can be left alone, impacted wisdom teeth are more prone to causing further dental problems.

For example, a partially erupted tooth is surrounded by gum tissue, and only a portion of its crown can break through the gum line, leaving tiny spaces around its edges or between the gums that are difficult to clean. Food debris or plaque can accumulate in the area which can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Furthermore, a fully impacted wisdom tooth can push against the tooth in front of it, potentially damaging it if left untreated for an extended period of time.

For these reasons, many dental professionals recommend removing impacted wisdom teeth, especially at a younger age when the roots and bones haven’t fully formed. This way, recovery can be generally faster after surgery. Keep in mind, however, that every situation is unique. Be sure to consult with your dentist to determine what’s best for you.

What Happens If Impacted Wisdom Tooth Is Not Removed?


Unaddressed impacted wisdom tooth allows for possible complications to occur:

Tooth decay.
The plaque buildup around an impacted tooth has bacteria that can trigger tooth decay.

Damaged nearby teeth.
In other cases, an impacted wisdom tooth can continually push towards the second molar, and excessive pressure can damage the tooth roots and heighten the risk of infection.

Gum disease.
It can be painful to brush the area where the impacted wisdom tooth has erupted. Also, it can be impossible to clean its crown because of the gum tissue surrounding it. Over time, the bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums, and without action, it can lead to gum disease.

Tooth abscess.
It is a collection of pus that forms in your wisdom teeth or the surrounding tissue due to a bacterial infection.

How Do You Know If Your Wisdom Tooth Is Infected?


Sometimes the symptoms of wisdom tooth infection are nearly identical to those of impaction. Below are the common signs and symptoms of having an infection:

  • Bad breath
  • Unpleasant taste in your mouth.
  • Severe pain
  • Gum tenderness
  • Swelling of the gums.
  • Bleeding gums
  • Dental abscess or oozing pus (yellowish fluid coming from the wisdom tooth area)
  • Jaw pain that radiates across cheeks, face, and neck.
  • Swollen jaw
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Having difficulty breathing, speaking, or opening your mouth.
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea or headache

Don’t ignore any of these indications, and call a dentist immediately once you experience it. Delaying treatment may increase potential risks and require more invasive dental procedures.

Can I Prevent Wisdom Tooth Impaction?

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Developing a wisdom tooth impaction cannot be prevented but it can be treated earlier to prevent further complications. If you visit your dentist regularly, they can keep an eye on your teeth and jaw development and spot any potential problems early on. If they see that your wisdom teeth are starting to come in, they may recommend having them removed before they become impacted, thereby preventing severe pain and avoiding compromising your oral health.

Final Thoughts


The development of wisdom teeth can result in a variety of problems. One is when there’s not having enough room for them to come in, causing them to be impacted or to never erupt fully. This paves the way for future issues like cavities and infections.

Impaction is one common reason why people decide to undergo wisdom teeth removal. It allows patients to avoid the risk of dental caries, abscesses, and periodontal disease. This procedure may help ease persistent pain and symptoms and lower the risk of future dental health problems.

Seeing a dentist as soon as possible is important, especially If you’re experiencing any signs and symptoms of troublesome wisdom teeth, contact our dentist at 08 9535 4900. Peel Dental Studio offers treatment options that can help you have healthy teeth.

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Peel Dental Studio

Dr. Bailey formerly served on the Australian Dental Association as President, Vice President Treasurer and Country Councillor. He was on the Australian Dental Association Federal Council and has always been keen to give back to the profession that has been his life. He has tutored student dentists at the Oral Health Centre in Perth.