Humans have two upper (maxillary) canines and two lower (mandibular) canines. They are also known as cuspids or eye teeth because of their direct positioning beneath the eyes. Canines have thicker and more conical roots than incisors and thus have an especially firm connection to the jaw. Canines often have the longest root of all teeth in the human mouth and the last to fully erupt and fall into place, often around age 13.
An impacted tooth essentially means that it is blocked, stuck, or unable to fully erupt and function properly. Third molars (wisdom teeth) most commonly fall victim to impaction, but the upper canine is the second most common tooth to become impacted. Wisdom teeth serve no important function in the mouth and are frequently removed; however impacted canines are critical to the bite and require treatment for the following reasons:
- Closing Gaps – canines are the last of the front teeth to fall into place and, therefore, close any unsightly gaps between the other upper teeth.
- First Touch – canines play a vital role in the “biting” mechanism of the teeth. They touch first when the jaw closes, and guide the other teeth into position.
- Proper Alignment & Function – canine teeth are essential for the correct alignment and function of the other teeth on the dental arch. Missing or impacted canines can greatly affect the function and aesthetic appearance of the smile.
What causes canine teeth to become impacted?
There are several main causes for impacted canine teeth:
- Extra Teeth – if extra teeth are present, the natural eruption of the canine teeth may be inhibited. The eruption progress of the canine may be directly blocked by an extra tooth or the subsequent overcrowding might leave no room on the dental arch for the canine.
- Overcrowding – in some cases, poor alignment of the front teeth can lead to overcrowding. The existing teeth compete for space which means that the canines do not have sufficient room to become functional.
- Unusual Growths – on rare occasions, unusual growths on the soft tissue of the gums can restrict the progress of canine teeth, which leads to later impaction.
Early and thorough examination of the teeth can pre-empt problems with impacted canines. It is important for your dentist or orthodontist to document the number of teeth present when the patient is around 7 years of age in order to record the presence or absence of canine teeth. The older the patient becomes, the less likely it is that impacted canines will erupt naturally.
If canine teeth are missing or very slow in fully erupting, a panorex X-ray and/or individual X-rays will be taken to determine the cause of the impaction. The patient will be referred to Dr. Allen to determine the best treatment option available depending on the age of the patient. The objective is to aid the eruption of the impacted canine.