June 7, 2024
Medically Reviewed By Matthew T. Streelman, DDS, MD

Wisdom teeth, those third molars emerging in late adolescence or early adulthood, can be a source of curiosity – and sometimes, concern. While some wisdom teeth emerge flawlessly, blending seamlessly into your smile, others become impacted. But what exactly causes wisdom teeth to become trapped beneath the gum tissue or bone?

Lack of Space: A Top Reason Wisdom Teeth Become Impacted

Our jaws have evolved to be smaller than those of our ancestors. Dietary changes over time have led to less need for powerful chewing muscles, resulting in smaller jaws. By the time wisdom teeth try to emerge in our late teens or early twenties, there simply may not be enough space to accommodate them comfortably. This lack of space forces wisdom teeth to erupt at odd angles or remain trapped entirely beneath the gum tissue or jawbone, a condition known as impaction.

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause various problems, including pain, swelling, infection, and damage to surrounding teeth. In some cases, they may not cause any immediate issues, but they can still threaten oral health later in life.

Wisdom Teeth Eruption Angles and Impaction Risk

The lack of space isn’t the only challenge wisdom teeth face. Due to limited room, wisdom teeth often emerge at strange angles. Instead of growing straight up like the other molars, they may tilt sideways, emerge backward, or even erupt diagonally. This awkward positioning can cause them to become impacted against neighboring teeth or become lodged in the jawbone itself.

Angled wisdom teeth can also create pockets where food particles and bacteria can become trapped. This can lead to inflammation, gum disease, and even tooth decay in the surrounding teeth.

Other Factors Contributing to Impaction

While lack of space and eruption angle are the primary reasons for wisdom teeth impaction, other factors can also play a role. 

  • Thick gum tissue or bone: Sometimes, the tissue or bone surrounding the wisdom teeth can be too thick for them to come through properly.
  • Early or late eruption: Wisdom teeth typically emerge between the ages of 17 and 25. However, they can come out earlier or later than this timeframe. Early or late eruption can increase the risk of impaction if surrounding teeth have already shifted into position.
  • Extra teeth: In some rare cases, individuals may have extra teeth that can block the path of erupting wisdom teeth.

Considering Wisdom Teeth Removal in Mercer Island, WA

Understanding why wisdom teeth become impacted empowers you to make informed decisions about your oral health. If you’re experiencing discomfort, swelling, or other issues related to your wisdom teeth, wisdom teeth removal might be the best course of action. Here at Mercer Island Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, our team of experienced oral surgeons can skillfully assess your individual situation and determine if wisdom teeth removal is necessary. We utilize advanced diagnostic tools and techniques to promote a precise diagnosis and develop a personalized treatment plan.

Learn more about our wisdom teeth removal and take control of your oral health today.