How to Tell If Your Wisdom Teeth Are Impacted

Posted by Dr. John Paul Gallardo, DDS, PA
How to Tell If Your Wisdom Teeth Are Impacted
The main cause of impacted wisdom teeth is simply not enough space in the mouth.

Wisdom teeth, which typically emerge between the ages of 17 and 25, are also known as third molars. Some people may not experience any issues with their wisdom teeth, while others develop impacted wisdom teeth, which can lead to a variety of oral health problems. In this article, we will discuss what wisdom teeth are, the signs of impacted wisdom teeth, their causes, types, and treatment options.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

The last set of molars to develop in the human mouth are wisdom teeth. They are located at the back of the jaw and serve as additional chewing surfaces. However, due to evolution and changes in our diet, these teeth are no longer necessary. In fact, the human jaw has become smaller over time, making it difficult for all 32 teeth to fit properly. As a result, wisdom teeth can become impacted and cause oral health issues.

Signs of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

There are several symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth depending on the type and severity of the impaction. These may include:

Pain Around the Jaw Area

The impacted teeth can cause jaw pain, particularly in the area surrounding the tooth. Wisdom teeth pain may be constant or intermittent and may worsen when eating or speaking.

Swelling of the Gums

Bacteria can accumulate in the space between the gum tissue and the tooth, which can lead to periodontal disease, infection, and swelling of the gums. This swelling is accompanied by tenderness and redness.

Bad Breath or Sour Taste in Your Mouth

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause bad breath and a sour or unpleasant taste in the mouth due to trapped food particles and bacteria. This can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and bone loss if left untreated.

Depending on the angle of the impaction, the wisdom teeth can affect the gums or adjacent teeth.
There are different types of wisdom tooth impaction depending on the angle

Difficulty Opening Your Mouth Widely

An impacted wisdom tooth can make it difficult to open your mouth fully, especially if the tooth is causing mouth pain and swelling.

Tenderness When Eating or Chewing Food

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause discomfort when eating or chewing, particularly if the tooth has partially erupted.

Redness and/or Bleeding Around the Gum Line

Inflammation, swelling, and infection of the gums can cause gum tissue to become tender and prone to bleeding, especially when brushing or flossing. As a result, bleeding at the gum line is a common symptom of impacted teeth.

Difficulty Brushing Teeth in That Area

Impacted wisdom teeth can make it challenging to brush and use dental floss properly, leading to plaque buildup and an increased risk of dental disease.

Headaches or Jaw Aches

Impacted teeth can cause headaches or jaw aches from the pressure they place on surrounding nerves and tissues.

Teeth damage

The impaction can cause damage to nearby teeth, including crowding, misalignment, and an increased risk of decay.

What Causes Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

There are several reasons why teeth can become impacted including:

Overcrowding in the Mouth

A lack of space in the mouth is the main cause of impacted wisdom teeth, as mentioned earlier. Overcrowding can prevent wisdom teeth from erupting, leading to impaction.

Not Enough Room for the Wisdom Teeth to Grow Properly

The jaw may sometimes be too small to accommodate the proper growth of wisdom teeth. The teeth might be in abnormal positions, which can lead to infected teeth and ultimately can destroy adjacent teeth and bone.

Severe pain in the jaw, bad breath, and gum inflammation are impacted wisdom teeth symptoms
Jaw pain is a common symptom of infection by the impaction of wisdom tooth


In a 2018 twin study, DNA tests showed that genetics play a key role in the position of the upper third molars. If one or both of your parents had impacted teeth, you may be more likely to develop them, as well.

Unfavorable Angles of Growth

Regardless of jaw size or space in the jaw, wisdom teeth can grow at unfavorable angles. This can cause them to become impacted, as they are unable to erupt through the gum line.

Partial Eruption of the Tooth Above the Gum Line

In some cases, a wisdom tooth may partially erupt through the gum line, leaving part of the tooth exposed. This can make it difficult for the tooth to fully emerge, leading to impaction.

Blockage Caused by Overlapping Teeth or Jawbone

Impacted wisdom teeth can also be caused by blockages in the mouth, such as overlapping teeth or the jawbone itself. These obstructions can prevent the wisdom tooth from erupting properly, leading to impaction.

Types of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

There are four main types of impacted wisdom teeth, which are categorized based on the angle at which the tooth is growing:

Mesial impaction

When the wisdom tooth is angled towards the front of the mouth, it is called a mesial impaction. This is the most common type of impaction and often requires surgical removal.

Distal impaction

When the wisdom tooth is angled towards the back of the mouth, a distal impaction occurs. This type of impaction is less common and may not require treatment if it does not cause any symptoms.

Vertical impaction

When a wisdom tooth is growing straight up and down, but there is not enough space for it to fully emerge, called vertical impaction. An oral surgeon may prescribe surgery if a vertically impacted tooth pushes against the molar in front of it or puts pressure on the bone.

Horizontal impaction

A wisdom tooth growing sideways, parallel to the jawbone, is known as a horizontal impaction. This type of impaction is rare and typically requires surgical removal.

How Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth Treated?

The severity of the impaction and the symptoms it is causing determine the treatment options for impacted wisdom teeth. Some common treatment options include:

Removal of the Tooth Through Surgery

The most common treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is a surgical extraction. This procedure involves making incisions in the gum’s soft tissue to expose the tooth, removing any bone that is blocking the tooth, and then proceeding to extract the tooth itself.

Recovery from a wisdom tooth extraction can take up to two weeks. It typically involves the use of ice packs, soft foods, avoiding strenuous jaw movements, and possibly pain medication for the first few days. 

Orthodontic Treatment to Make Room for the Wisdom Tooth

In some cases, orthodontic treatment may be recommended to create more space in the mouth for the wisdom tooth to erupt properly. Braces, expanders, or other orthodontic appliances are used to gradually shift the position of the teeth and alleviate overcrowding.

Splitting the Tooth Into Several Parts Before Extracting it

If a wisdom tooth is particularly difficult to remove, it may be necessary to split the tooth into smaller pieces before extraction. This can make the removal process easier and minimize the risk of damage to the surrounding tissues and bone.

For proper healing after oral surgery make sure to practice a good oral hygiene
Make sure to have a proper recovery after the wisdom tooth removal procedure

Cutting Away Part or All of the Jawbone to Remove the Tooth

In rare cases, it may be necessary to remove part or all of the jawbone to successfully extract an impacted wisdom tooth. This is typically reserved for severe impactions or when other extraction methods have failed.

Leaving Impacted Wisdom Teeth in Place and Monitoring their Growth

If impacted wisdom teeth are not causing any symptoms or problems, they may be left in place and monitored over time. Regular dental check-ups are important to ensure that the teeth do not cause issues in the future.

Following a Periodontal Care Regimen to Reduce Symptoms Caused by Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Practicing good oral hygiene and following a periodontal care regimen can help reduce the symptoms associated with impacted wisdom teeth. This may include daily brushing, flossing, and using an antimicrobial mouthwash to keep the area clean and free of infection.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth FAQS:

How often do people have impacted wisdom teeth?

It is estimated that around 65-85% of people will develop at least one impacted wisdom tooth during their lifetime. However, prophylactic extraction of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth is not always recommended.

What’s the deal with impacted wisdom teeth and your oral health?

Oral health issues such as gum disease, tooth decay, and damage to neighboring teeth can result from impacted wisdom teeth. It is important to monitor impacted wisdom teeth and seek treatment if necessary.

How long can wisdom tooth pain last?

Depending on the cause and severity of the impaction, the duration of wisdom tooth pain can vary. In some cases, pain may be temporary and resolve on its own, while in others, it may persist until the tooth is treated or removed.

What happens if I leave an impacted wisdom tooth?

Leaving an impacted wisdom tooth untreated can lead to complications such as infection, damage to neighboring teeth, and the development of oral cysts or tumors. It is important to consult with your dentist before deciding not to treat the tooth.

How do you tell if a wisdom tooth is impacted or infected?

Symptoms of an impacted or infected wisdom tooth may include pain, swelling, redness, and difficulty opening the mouth. In some cases, a foul taste or smell may also be present. If you suspect that your wisdom tooth is impacted or infected, it is important to consult with a dental professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Schedule an appointment with us!

If you are concerned about your permanent adult teeth or any other oral health issues, schedule an appointment with us today. At Gallardo Periodontics, Dr. John Paul Gallardo in Miami, FL, can help you determine the best course of action for your wisdom teeth and provide you with the necessary information to make an informed decision. Don’t wait until it’s too late,  contact us now to ensure your oral health is in top condition.