In a perfect world the transition from baby teeth to adult teeth is seamless. The baby tooth falls out leaving sufficient space for the permanent tooth beneath it, which emerges in its rightful position without a hitch.
But in reality, teeth don’t always play by the rules. In rare cases, that adult tooth may fail to erupt properly, and in a worse case scenario it could grow beneath the gumline, causing damage to the teeth around it.
This situation is commonly known as an impacted tooth. But the good news is, a specialist orthodontist can assist. So, let’s look at impacted teeth and orthodontics.
What is an impacted tooth?
Quite simply, an impacted tooth is a permanent tooth that fails to come through. Most commonly it affects the wisdom teeth, but can also occur in other teeth as well, including the canine teeth, and premolars which usually erupt between the ages of 10 and 13.
What causes impacted teeth?
The cause of impacted teeth can be challenging to determine. For some people impacted teeth just happen, but for others genetics may play a role. So, if you or your partner experienced impacted teeth, your child may be more prone to them too.
Either way, impacted teeth are one reason that children are advised to first visit an orthodontist between the ages of seven and 10.
Signs of an impacted tooth
The biggest indicator that a tooth is impacted is when its eruption is delayed. That might mean the baby tooth doesn’t fall out when it should, or it does, yet no adult tooth comes in behind it. Meanwhile, sometimes impacted teeth do erupt, but only partially.
Often impacted teeth do not initially cause pain, but if you suspect that a tooth is taking too long to emerge, it is very important that your child sees an orthodontist.
The sooner an impacted tooth is identified, the more treatment options are available. And quite bluntly, the longer an impacted tooth is left to its own devices, the more damage it can do.
The problem with impacted teeth
Impacted teeth have the potential to cause serious damage to the teeth that surround them. They place additional pressure on these teeth and can ultimately lead to problems like breakage, decay and the loss of surrounding teeth.
The aesthetics of a smile may also be affected due to the look of the small baby tooth which remains in place or the gap left by the impacted tooth that has not emerged.
Meanwhile, impacted teeth that emerge on their own can erupt high against the gum, causing it to become inflamed. They can also erupt in the incorrect position, causing overcrowding or they can grow in the wrong direction affecting the roots of neighbouring teeth.
The longer impacted teeth are left untreated the more damage they can do and the harder they are to treat. In some cases, an impacted tooth that has been left untreated may then fail to move because of its prolonged impaction.
How are impacted teeth identified
If your orthodontist suspects a tooth is impacted, they will take a series of X-Rays to confirm their diagnosis and then devise a treatment plan to assist.
How orthodontics can assist
In the case of impacted teeth, the earlier the diagnosis the more treatment options are available and the better the outcome.
As mentioned earlier, impacted teeth are just one of the reasons the Australian Society or Orthodontists recommends children have their first visit to an orthodontist between the ages of 7 and 10. At this stage teeth that are not developing as they should can often be identified using X-Rays and treated with early intervention.
Treatment options for impacted teeth
How an impacted tooth is treated will depend on the age of the patient, the position of the impacted tooth, whether or not baby teeth remain in place, and the angle of growth of the impacted tooth.
If an impacted tooth is identified, the following treatment options are common:
When identified early, an orthodontist has a suite of tools available to help. This might involve removing the baby tooth and the use of space maintainers, which allow the impacted tooth to erupt by itself.
If there is significant overcrowding, a jaw expander can also be employed to widen the palate, thereby creating the required space and enticing the tooth to come through.
Once a child reaches their teens or the impaction becomes moderate to severe, minor surgery might be the preferred course of action. This sees the impacted tooth exposed by cutting into the gums. A specialist orthodontist may also then affix a chain to the impacted tooth to guide it into position.
After the impacted tooth has been specifically addressed, braces are often then utilised to ensure all teeth shift into the correct position and the alignment of the bite is optimised.
Impacted wisdom teeth
Wisdom teeth are some of the most commonly impacted teeth. These teeth erupt between 17 and 25 years of age, often at a time when braces treatment has already been completed and the jaw has finished growing.
That’s why an orthodontist will carefully monitor their arrival, looking to ascertain their position, and projected growth trajectory.
In most cases the arrival of wisdom teeth has very little effect on orthodontic work, and can be managed by wearing a retainer as advised. If they are severely impacted, your orthodontist may recommend their removal to ensure they won’t cause future pain, dental problems or affect existing teeth.
About Norwest Orthodontics
Norwest Orthodontics specialises in helping you achieve a great smile, no matter your age. We feature a range of orthodontic treatments that span from early intervention right through to remedial adult work.
We also have a suite of treatments available that include discreet, removeable Invisalign braces, and welcome the opportunity to work with you to achieve the smile you’ve always dreamed of.