Approximately 5 million wisdom teeth are removed in the U.S. every year! Because our jaws have evolved to be too small to fit third molars (aka wisdom teeth), they often grow in incorrectly - pushing against other teeth, erupting at an angle, sometimes even getting stuck in the jaw bone. Some lucky people have wisdom teeth that grow in correctly and do not need to get them removed, and an even smaller number of lucky people do not grow wisdom teeth at all!
However, chances are that for the benefit of your overall oral health, your dentist will recommend getting your wisdom teeth extracted before they can cause any further dental health issues. Each case is different, and the type of extraction (simple or surgical), let alone whether or not you need your wisdom teeth removed at all, depends on how it is growing into your mouth and jaw. Take a look at the different types of impacted wisdom teeth!
Mesial impactions are the most common type of wisdom tooth impaction: the tooth is angled forward towards the front of the mouth and pushes against the molar in front of it. Whether or not this type of impacted wisdom tooth needs to be removed depends on the severity of the angle. Mesial impactions often lead to a partial eruption, where only part of the crown will erupt past the gums.
Distal impactions are rare, and are the opposite of mesial impactions: the tooth’s crown is angled towards the back of the mouth. Whether or not this type of impacted wisdom tooth needs to be removed depends on the angle. If the angle is slight, it will likely erupt normally and your dentist or oral surgeon may wait a year or two to see whether or not it should be removed. If the angle is closer to 90 degrees, there is a high chance that the tooth will eventually impact with bone and not erupt correctly. In this case, the tooth most often needs to be removed to protect your oral health.
Just like it sounds, a horizontal impaction is one in which the tooth is angled completely on its side (horizontally). It is usually the worst and most painful type of wisdom tooth impaction to have, and is often completely under the surface of the gum and pushed against the molar next to it. A horizontal impaction requires x-rays and a skilled oral surgeon to remove. The procedure often requires removing some jaw bone, and is usually performed while under general anesthesia or IV sedation. Healing times can also be longer due to the surgical removal of bone.
This is the “best” type of wisdom tooth impaction to have - it is almost a normal orientation and often doesn’t require removal since there is a high chance the tooth will erupt and fit into the mouth without any issues. If extraction is necessary, it is because the tooth causes pressure to its neighboring molar or the jawbone. Vertically impacted wisdom teeth can typically be extracted easily with only local anesthetic.