Impacted Wisdom Teeth Explained: Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery
Impacted wisdom teeth are like unwelcome house guests. We know they will arrive at some point, there is no room for them, are often painful to deal with, create problems for others, and kicking them out is no fun either. Fortunately, when it comes to oral health, wisdom teeth extraction is one of the most common dental surgeries - understanding impacted wisdom teeth symptoms, treatment, and recovery will ease the pain.
What is an impacted wisdom tooth and why is removal necessary?
Our mouths are capable of housing a set of 28 teeth. When these extra teeth finally emerge (otherwise known as the third molars) typically between the ages of 17 and 25, they are simply too big, stuck in the back of the mouth either under the gum or partially exposed, impacting the jawbone and unable to come out on their own.
An impacted rear molar can be painful and is the most common reason people go in for removal surgery. However, while some may not experience pain, these molars often cause other problems including damage to surrounding teeth, plaque, infection, trapped food, and bad breath. They may also emerge tilted or twisted creating havoc in the rear mouth.
End of the day, there is no room for these oral guests and they need to go.
Symptoms to watch out for
Fortunately, impacted teeth can be detected early before symptoms arise with regular dental visits and x-rays; the earlier they are removed the better as the roots are less developed, leading to less chance of complications.
However, impacted wisdom teeth may not always show symptoms before erupting through the gum. Here are the signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Red or swollen gums
- Swelling and infection
- Jaw pain
- Difficulty opening jaw
- Bad breath and/or unpleasant taste in mouth
These symptoms may be the result of other complications so it is best to always consult with a dentist or oral surgeon (swollen gums, for instance, are a common sign but may also indicate gum disease).
Pain: does it hurt?
Often, it can be painless and go unnoticed in the early stages. However, as the impacted tooth attempts to come in or breaks through the gum, pain is common in the nearby teeth (the second molars next to the wisdom tooth) or in the ear on that side of the face.
The amount of pain may also depend on the stage and type of impaction. These include:
- Full-bony impacted when the tooth is completely stuck in the jaw, generally the most difficult to remove.
- Partial-bony impacted with a partly stuck tooth in the jaw.
- Soft-tissue impacted when the troubled tooth is wedged just under the gum.
- Erupted when the tooth is exposed, leading to the least difficult removal procedure.
When to see an oral surgeon
Once detected, dentists will often refer patients to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to have impacted wisdom teeth removed. Otherwise, it is best to call the dentist if there is pain, discomfort, or any of the symptoms listed above.
Treatment and what to expect next
Note: Make sure to read our feature Wisdom Teeth Removal: Everything You Need to Know to learn more about treatment, recovery, and foods to eat following surgery.
Pain aside, if gone untreated for too long, an impacted tooth can lead to infection and spread to the throat or into the neck. Annual dentist visits are the best course of action for early detection.
Dr. Dhesi will provide full consultation, a review of patient radiographs, and perform an exam with a recommendation on how to proceed and whether the teeth need to be removed. He will discuss all options including the procedure, types of anesthesia/sedatives, and what to eat or avoid prior to surgery.
Recovery and pain relief
Despite the severity of an impacted wisdom tooth and the consequences if gone untreated, extraction is a very common outpatient surgery with patients returning home the same day. Recovery and pain is manageable if patients take good care of their mouths during the healing process.
How long is recovery after removing an impacted tooth?
Opposed to other types of wisdom teeth extraction which may take a few days to recover, impacted wisdom teeth which have come in at an awkward angle, may take a full 2 weeks to recover. As with most removal surgeries, patients should expect possible bruising, swelling, and potential pain. Stitches may be required to close the wound which are typically removed one week following surgery and inflammation will typically reach its high point 2-3 days after surgery.
Food to eat and those to avoid
Fortunately, patients can begin eating immediately following impacted wisdom tooth surgery. However, avoid foods that require chewing to prevent pain and possible infection, foods such as grains that may get stuck in the recovery area, and spicy and acidic foods causing irritation.
Instead, opt for softer foods which are also healthier. These include smoothies, scrambled eggs, hummus, avocado, blended soups, salmon, and instant oatmeal.
Pain relief: simple home care tips
To keep pain in check and reduce swelling, the dentist or oral surgeon may prescribe over-the-counter medications and/or pain medications, or antibiotics to prevent any potential infections in the mouth.
Medications aside, here are some other simple tips to reduce pain, keep the mouth clean, avoid infections, and help speed up the healing process:
- Ice pack helps reduce swelling and pain (though avoid ice burn by placing cold pack directly on the face - seek instructions for proper use)
- Keep the wound clean by gently rinsing with salt water or antiseptic and absorb excess blood by dabbing the wound carefully
- For more comfortable sleeps, keep the head raised
- Tea bags have been known to alleviate pain, by applying a cooled tea bag to the painful wound (Peppermint tea and Black tea are said to have natural properties to help with healing)
- Avoid foods that require chewing; avoid hot drinks
- Avoid smoking and alcohol for 24 hours, at least
- Avoid brushing teeth near the wound
Again, patients should always consult with their dentist or oral surgeon about pain management and the right solution for their needs.
Contact Dr. Dhesi’s office anytime to learn more about impacted wisdom teeth, treatment options, or book a consultation.