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What is an Impacted Tooth?

An impacted tooth is one that fails to erupt into the dental arch.  Teeth can become impacted because adjacent teeth, dense overlying bone, excessive gum tissue, or a genetic abnormality prevents eruption.  Since impacted teeth do not erupt into a normal position, they essentially only have negative outcomes.  That does not mean that an impacted tooth will always cause problems.    No one can say that for sure.  What it does mean is that going forward the tooth is never going to be a functioning and maintainable tooth.  It will not do you any good.  Impacted teeth can adversely affect adjacent teeth in the form of resorption of tooth or loss of supporting bone structure around your functioning teeth.  They have the potential to contribute to infections.   Impacted teeth can  be the source of tumors and cysts within the jaw.  Impacted teeth can cause pain at any time, no matter how old you are.

The effects of impacted teeth have been studied for decades, and in 2007, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons created a task force to critically evaluate current practices, current literature and previous scientific studies.  To be exact, they critically evaluate 205 studies  dating back more than 30 years.   The White Paper on 3rd Molar Data was developed https://www.aaoms.org/docs/govt_affairs/advocacy_white_papers/white_paper_third_molar_data.pdf .   It is this confluence of scientific knowledge that the recommendations that most oral surgeons follow today.

If you have an impacted tooth, there are 3 basic available options.  One, clinical and radiographic observation.  Just because you have an impacted tooth does not mean that it has to be removed.  Many people opt to “wait and see” and then remove an impacted tooth if and when it becomes a problem.  If the wait and see approach is chosen, we recommend periodic radiographs to monitor the impacted teeth.  If a problem develops, the sooner your dentist or oral surgeon is aware of it, the easier it will be to treat it.  Two, undergo a procedure to correct the position of the tooth, so that it can become a functioning member of your mouth.  There are many times that we want or need an impacted tooth.  An example of this is when a canine (the eye tooth) becomes impacted.  The canines are considered the cornerstone of your mouth, and because of this sometimes great lengths are taken to help these teeth.  Three, removal of the impacted tooth.  This can be done either at the time that there is a problem, or it can be done as a preventive measure.   Preventative removal is usually recommended in the case where a tooth is impacted, but even with surgery has little to no chance of becoming a functioning member of your mouth.  Preventative or prophylactic removal of teeth is done because through our experience and knowledge as we are trained in understanding the risk factors.   Sometimes the benefits of preventative removal at a young age  outweigh the risks of waiting and watching and potentially having a problem in the future.    You know the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.