Every year, five million people across the U.S. have at least one wisdom tooth removed. The reason we need to have these teeth removed is that the human jawbone structure has actually changed more quickly than Mother Nature was able to accommodate so, millions of people lack sufficient room for the last molar in their jaws to come in properly placed.
Today’s population has a shorter jawbone, front to back, than that of ancient days. Because of this modification, the upper and lower molars in the very back often lack sufficient room to fully emerge from the gum (a process called “erupting”). The body makes an effort to move the tooth into place but because it just doesn’t fit, the tooth may come in at an angle or it may be positioned horizontally. In that case, there’s no hope that this tooth will ever take its rightful place.
How long have people needed a dentist’s help to remove improperly positioned teeth? That’s not known exactly, but one skeleton of a woman buried 15,000 years ago showed signs that she was having problems with her wisdom teeth!
What is an Impaction?
When a wisdom tooth remains lodged in the jaw, it’s referred to as “impaction.” The tooth may be angled toward the front of the mouth, toward the back, it can be vertical (but stuck) or, as mentioned, it can develop in a horizontal position. These scenarios very often create problems in that part of the mouth and jaw, such as:
- When a tooth fails to break through the gum, an infection can form between the top of the tooth and the gum covering it. This infection may become chronic or recurring.
- The misplaced tooth will often create pressure on an adjacent tooth which can result in decay and root damage.
- It’s hard to keep this area clean since the teeth are not positioned normally; decay may develop.
- Even if a wisdom tooth is painless, it can be causing hidden problems. A submerged wisdom tooth can become surrounded by a sac and cause an infection in the jawbone. Jawbone loss can result.
- Nerves and blood supply can be interfered with.
Since the problems can be serious, it’s good to find out early if your teeth are in the right place to erupt normally.
Warning Signs to Watch For
Here are some ways you can tell if one or more of your wisdom teeth are impacted.
- You may suffer jaw pain that could also extend to your ear.
- The gum in the back of your mouth could become painful and swollen. This swelling may come and go.
- Pain when biting—this pain may not only be felt around the wisdom teeth, but could extend to other teeth due to inflammation.
- You may experience bad breath and a bad taste in your mouth because of obvious or hidden infections.
- Inflammation and infections can make it difficult for you to open your mouth all the way.
The Optimum Solution
The best solution for impacted wisdom teeth is extraction by a skilled and experienced oral surgeon. An oral surgeon has extensive training and experience in complicated extractions and is your best choice for an ideal result. Dr. Virginia Lee has specialized in oral dentistry and just this kind of complex procedure for nearly 20 years. With her level of expertise, extractions very often heal more quickly and result in better outcomes. Some of Dr. Lee’s patients have been surprised at the minimal post-extraction discomfort they suffer—a testament to her expertise.
If you see these signs of wisdom tooth impaction, call 202-296-6600 today to make an appointment so you can experience the excellence of our care.