Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, typically begin to develop at age 10 and may surface through a person’s twenties. Commonly, a wisdom tooth may fail to emerge fully into position. When this happens, the wisdom tooth is said to be impacted. Roughly seventy percent of adults will experience at least one impacted wisdom tooth during their lifetime.
A wisdom tooth may become impacted for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that there is simply not enough room in a person’s jaw to accommodate another molar. In some cases, a wisdom tooth is obstructed from fully emerging by other teeth, or because the wisdom tooth comes in at an angle. In all of these cases, the wisdom tooth must be removed.
There are a number of reasons to have an impacted wisdom tooth removed. The impacted tooth may cause surrounding teeth to shift position, may cause an interruption in sinus function, or it may just cause jaw pain. In many cases, an impacted or un-emerged wisdom tooth may be positioned in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to thoroughly clean, which could lead to decay, infections, and cavities.
Removal of impacted or un-erupted wisdom teeth is often more complex than a regular tooth extraction; in fact, it usually requires a surgical procedure for which most patients prefer to be sedated or under general anesthesia. While some general dentists have the advanced training necessary to perform an impacted wisdom tooth extraction, in most cases the patient will need to visit an oral surgeon.