Impacted Wisdom Teeth: A Common Condition

9 out of 10

Did you know that 9 out of 10 patients have at least one impacted wisdom tooth? In fact, it’s the number one reason that we remove them!

32 Teeth, 28 Spaces

Our jaws have space for 28 teeth. That is enough room to accommodate the first and second, but not the third molars (another name for “wisdom teeth”). Because these are the last to show up there often isn’t enough room for them to grow.

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What does it mean if a tooth is impacted?

All of this crowding results in the wisdom teeth being unable to erupt through the gums properly – a condition commonly referred to as “impacted”. They often grow in sideways, backward, tilted, and sometimes they may even remain completely under the surface of the jawbone.

While you may feel nothing out of place, impacted teeth are at a significant risk for becoming infected, fracturing the jaw, or damaging neighboring teeth. For this reason it is often necessary for Dr. Betts, Dr. Wasielewski, Dr. Bartling and Dr. Cannavo to remove them.

Wisdom Teeth impacted in jaw: Patient x-ray on the left and illustration on the right

Classification of Impaction: Terms to Know


  • Mesial Impaction: The most common type of impaction, the tooth is angled forward toward the front of the mouth.
  • Horizontal Impaction: The tooth is lying on its side.
  • Distal Impaction: The tooth is angled toward the rear of the mouth.
  • Vertical Impaction: This indicates an almost-normal orientation, where the tooth is mostly upright.

Tissue Type:

  • Soft Tissue Impaction: The upper portion of the tooth has erupted through the bone, but not all the way through the soft (gum) tissue.
  • Partial Bony Impaction: The tooth is still mostly located within the jawbone, although a small portion has pushed through.
  • Full Bony Impaction: The entire tooth still lies within the jawbone.
Jaw illustration: Impacted lower Wisdom Teeth affecting the soft tissueSoft Tissue
Jaw illustration: Partial Bony Impaction by lower Wisdom ToothPartial Bony
Jaw illustration: Complete Bony Impaction by lower Wisdom ToothComplete Bony

We want you to know that if you’ve been told you have an impacted wisdom tooth (or two), you are definitely not alone! This common condition is one that we treat regularly in our offices. As oral surgeons we are specially trained to handle even the most complex cases of impacted teeth. Please call us with any questions you may have about your wisdom teeth management.