Just as your baby’s body grows, their teeth will also continue to grow. While tooth growth and the replacement of baby teeth with permanent, adult teeth is usually seamless, sometimes problems do arise. One of the most common issues is impacted teeth.
An impacted tooth is a tooth that hasn’t pushed all the way through the gums and into the mouth. Wisdom teeth (larger molars that erupt during the teenage years) are the most common impacted teeth. An impacted tooth can get blocked by other teeth, or by bone or tissue. It may get pushed out of position, or that area of the mouth may become overcrowded and there is simply not enough room for the tooth to move through.
An impacted tooth that erupts sideways is called an ectopic tooth, or one that is incorrectly positioned. In some cases, a tooth may not erupt because it has fused to the jawbone. This is called ankylosis, and it is one of the major complications associated with impacted teeth in children.
An impacted tooth can become infected and swollen. When a tooth only partially emerges, it can trap food and even plaque in the surrounding gum, causing tenderness, inflammation, and bad breath. This can become painful and may even cause pain in neighboring teeth or in your child’s ear. An impacted tooth can also get a cavity.
Sometimes an impacted tooth isn’t painful, and your child may not even know it’s there. If you notice, however, that your child complains of a headache or mouth ache, or if you detect red or swollen gums around a certain area of the mouth, call a pediatric dentist. The dentist will examine the area for swollen tissue and sensitivity and will take x-rays to determine the exact positioning of the tooth beneath the gum line.
The typical treatment for an impacted tooth is removal, or extraction, which can be done in the dentist’s office. If the tooth is in a difficult position or if more than one tooth is affected, an oral surgeon may perform the procedure. The extraction usually takes anywhere from 5-30 minutes, and once the tooth is gone, the symptoms will be, too. Age-appropriate, over-the-counter pain relievers will help with any soreness or discomfort your child experiences after the procedure.
There is no way to stop a tooth from becoming impacted, but proper brushing and flossing can help to ensure good oral hygiene.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2019
- An impacted tooth is a tooth that hasn’t pushed all the way through the gums and into the mouth.
- An impacted tooth that erupts sideways is called an ectopic tooth.
- An impacted tooth can become infected and swollen.
- The typical treatment for an impacted tooth is removal, or extraction, which can be done in the dentist’s office.