Canine teeth are sometimes referred to as cuspids, fangs, or “eye teeth” because of their direct positioning beneath the eyes. Canine teeth have thicker and more conical roots than incisors and thus have an especially firm connection to the jaw. Because canine teeth often have the longest root of all teeth in the human mouth, they are the last to fully erupt and fall into place, often around age 13.
An impacted tooth is one that is blocked, stuck, or unable to fully erupt through the appropriate spot in the gums and function properly. The upper canine is the second most common tooth to become impacted, after the third molars (wisdom teeth). 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 to 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 you grow any extra teeth, your canine teeth may not have the room to grow in properly.
- 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.
We recommend early and thorough examination of a child or pre-teen’s teeth to pre-empt problems with impacted canines. It is important for your dentist 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 an impacted canine tooth will erupt naturally. If canine teeth are missing or very slow in fully erupting, the dentist can make recommendations for proper treatment, often involving a referral to an orthodontist or oral surgeon.
Treating impacted canine teeth
Our primary objective of treatment is to aid the eruption of the impacted canines. If your mouth is overcrowded for any reason and your orthodontist has recommended extraction of selected teeth, you will be directed to an oral surgeon. During the surgical treatment, we will lift the gum to expose the un-erupted canine and attach a special bracket to the teeth. Your orthodontist will then manage to help guide the incisors into place. IV sedation is usually suggested for surgery involving impacted canines. Pain medication will be prescribed as necessary, and you’ll be given post-operative advice for your recovery.
With younger patients, the orthodontist can often provide an orthodontic brace to create a space on the dental arch for the impacted canine.