Impacted Wisdom Teeth

What is an impacted tooth?

Although one generally has thirty-two permanent adult teeth, few have jaws large enough to properly accommodate the four wisdom teeth. When inadequate space prevents the wisdom teeth from erupting, the teeth are referred to as impacted. This indicates their inability to erupt into the proper position for chewing and cleaning.

A diagram half mouth X-ray with teeth impaction and half digital graphic highlighting impacted teeth

Types Of Impactions

A consultation is required to determine if wisdom tooth removal is indicated. A special x-ray of the mouth and jaws (called a panoramic x-ray or panorex) is taken. This x-ray, in combination with an intraoral examination, will reveal if any of the wisdom teeth are impacted, if there is sufficient space for any of them to erupt, and for those indicated, how difficult the removal is expected to be. If a tooth is referred to as impacted, it is further described according to the degree of impaction as follows: 

  • Soft Tissue Impaction: There is not enough room to allow the gum tissue to properly surround the tooth, thereby preventing adequate cleaning of the tooth, predisposing it to decay and gum disease.
  • Partial Bony Impaction: There is enough space to allow the wisdom tooth to partially erupt. However, the tooth cannot function properly in the chewing process, and the ability to properly clean the tooth is also compromised, predisposing it to decay and gum disease.
  • Complete Bony Impaction: There is NO space for the tooth to erupt. The tooth therefore remains embedded in the jaw bone. Even if partially visible, complex surgical techniques are required for removal due to the unusual position and/or angle that the tooth is embedded within the jaw. The impacted wisdom tooth may also be in an unusual position and difficult to remove. Such wisdom teeth can also be significantly more complex to remove considering the shape and/or size of the jaw bone and/or other facial structures.
A representation of a wisdom tooth impacted by soft tissueSoft Tissue
An example of a wisdom tooth with a partial bony impactionPartial Bony
An illustration of a wisdom tooth completely impacted by boneComplete Bony