You may have heard the term “impacted” used to describe a tooth and wonder what it means.
In orthodontic or dental terms, “impacted” means that a tooth either has not come in (“erupted”) when expected or a tooth that cannot erupt because it does not have room or may be coming in the wrong direction or position. What causes an impacted tooth may not be known – for some people, it just happens. Genetics can play a role, so if a parent had an impacted tooth, their child may experience the same problem.
We often hear about older teenagers or adults having impacted wisdom teeth. But other teeth can be impacted, too.
In the X-ray above, the permanent canine is coming in sideways, colliding with the root of another tooth.
Children who are getting their permanent teeth can have impacted teeth. A permanent tooth can be trapped in the gums if a baby tooth does not fall out on time or if something blocks the permanent tooth’s path, such as a cyst. A permanent tooth may not erupt at all, or if it does, the tooth may appear in the wrong place. Sometimes, an impacted tooth can harm the roots of neighboring teeth. Impacted teeth can also cause crowding, and may cause already erupted teeth to move into unhealthy positions. Children may find it difficult to bite or chew, and there can be tenderness or pain. As the teeth become crowded, appearance is affected, and self-esteem can decline.
The permanent first molar is stuck or “impacted”, the baby tooth will not allow the molar to erupt.
Fixing an impacted tooth can range from relatively simple to complicated. It all depends on the extent of the problem. Extracting a baby tooth may be all that is needed to make room for the permanent tooth to erupt into the proper position. But if an upper jaw is too narrow, it may be necessary to expand the jaw, which creates more room for permanent teeth to come in. Other problems might require a combination of oral surgery and orthodontic treatment to place an attachment on the impacted tooth and the orthodontist then guides the tooth into the proper position.
Timely treatment by an AAO orthodontic specialist ensures teeth come in properly, reducing the damage done to other teeth.
The old adage “a stitch in time saves nine” applies here. It may be easier for an orthodontist to identify and correct a patient’s problem when it is forming rather than waiting for it to fully develop. To this end, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that children get a check-up with an AAO orthodontist no later than age 7. Orthodontists’ specialized education enables them to diagnose even subtle problems while some baby teeth are still present. If a problem is in the making, an early check-up and x-ray will let the orthodontist recommend intervention when it’s best for the patient.
Many AAO orthodontists offer initial consultations at no cost and with no obligation. No referral is needed from the dentist, but dental check-ups are necessary during any orthodontic treatment. A check-up with an orthodontist gives your child the best opportunity to enjoy a healthy, beautiful smile.
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is open exclusively to orthodontists – only orthodontists are admitted for membership. The only doctors who can call themselves “orthodontists” have graduated from dental school and then successfully completed the additional two-to-three years of education in an accredited orthodontic residency program.
When you choose an AAO orthodontist for orthodontic treatment, you can be assured that you have selected a specialist orthodontist, an expert in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics who possesses the skills and experience to give you your best smile. Locate AAO orthodontists through Find an Orthodontist at aaoinfo.org.