Third molars, or wisdom teeth, should generally erupt when a patient is between 18 and 21 years of age. If there is sufficient room in the jaw, these teeth will erupt normally and will function normally in a patient’s bite.
In many cases, however, there is insufficient room for wisdom teeth to erupt. These are called impacted wisdom teeth. In some instances, the teeth may partially erupt while in others, the teeth will remain embedded in the bone under the gum line.
Partially erupted teeth may develop a flap of tissue over them called an operculum. Food may get caught under this flap causing a painful infection known as a pericorinitis.
This can be treated with antibiotics and warm salt water rinses, but this treatment does not address the cause of the problem.
In general, it is recommended that partially erupted and impacted wisdom teeth be removed by a dentist or oral surgeon as they may cause localized pain and may do damage to the adjacent second molars.
In some situations, however, if the wisdom tooth is asymptomatic and is causing no damage or if the extraction may cause more damage than just leaving the impacted tooth alone, the dentist may advise that the wisdom tooth, though it may be impacted, should remain in the patient’s mouth.