What is an Impaction?

What is an impaction

Impactions are a problem that many people don’t know about, but that many people are likely to experience at some point in their life. If left untreated, they can lead to serious dental problems and even more costly dental care. For this reason, it is important to know what an impaction is, what it’s symptoms are, and how your dentist treats the problem before it has a chance to cause you more problems.

What is an impaction?

Impaction is a dental term used to describe a tooth that has essentially gotten stuck partially or completely underneath the gums. While any tooth can become impacted, impaction most commonly happens when the wisdom teeth start to erupt around the late teens or early twenties.

At one point in our evolutionary history, humans were hunters and gathers who ate a variety of tough foods that required extra chewing power. As our diet become “softer” over time and the brain started to grow larger, the oral cavity evolved to be smaller than our ancestors. Consequently, when our third set of molars (aka: wisdom teeth) start to erupt, there is not always enough room in the mouth. This lack of space causes the wisdom teeth to become fully or partially impacted.

There are four main types of wisdom teeth impaction such as:


types of wisdom teeth impactions

A mesial impaction is a type of angular impaction characterized by a partially or completely impacted tooth that is angled towards the front of the mouth. This is the most common type of wisdom teeth impaction.


A distal impaction is another type of angular impaction characterized by a partially or completely impacted tooth that is angled towards the back of the mouth. This is the rarest type of wisdom teeth impaction.


A vertical impaction is characterized by a wisdom tooth that is correctly positioned to erupt, but that has been unable to erupt out of the gums.


A horizontal impaction is characterized by a wisdom tooth that is completely impacted and is lying on its side under the gums. Horizontal impactions can be extremely painful, especially if the wisdom tooth starts to push against neighboring tooth roots.

Symptoms of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth

Symptoms of an impacted wisdom tooth include:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness of the gum or cheek on that side of your mouth
  • Pain when biting down
  • Difficulty chewing on that side of your mouth
  • Pus or blood coming from the gum near your wisdom tooth
  • Increase in saliva production
  • Pain when chewing on that side of your mouth

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and/or suspect that you have impacted wisdom tooth, it is important for you to contact your dentist as soon as possible. It is also important to note that not all impacted wisdom teeth cause symptoms and some are only detected through dental x-rays.

How do dentists treat an impacted wisdom tooth?

In most cases, a dentist will attempt to remove an impacted third molar by performing a surgical extraction under local anesthesia. In some cases, a dentist may decide that it is best to monitor the wisdom tooth and wait for more symptoms before taking any action. This usually depends on the type and severity of the impaction.

During a surgical extraction, your dentist will make an incision in the gums and remove any bone or tissue that’s preventing your tooth from becoming fully visible. Afterwards, they will clean out any remaining tissues before closing up the gum with stitches. Since dental sedation and anesthetics are used, you will not feel anything during the procedure and most people don’t even remember the procedure. Afterwards, you may experience some minor discomfort that can usually be managed by over the counter pain medications. In most cases, you can expect the extraction site(s) to health within two weeks.

Dr Alina Huang DMD

Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.