Impacted Canines

Impacted Canines

Humans have two upper (maxillary) canines and two lower (mandibular) canines. 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. Canine teeth often have the longest root of all teeth in the human mouth and are 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 a critical condition 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 in 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 to document the number 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, a recommendation for proper treatment needs to be made.

Oral Examination

A dentist initially conducts a thorough visual examination of the teeth, accompanied by x-rays. Once the cause of the impaction has been determined, there will be several treatment options available depending upon the age of the patient. The objective of any treatment is to aid the eruption of the impacted canines; this can be skillfully done by the dentist, an oral surgeon, or an orthodontist.

What does the treatment of impacted canines involve?

If your mouth is overcrowded for any reason, a dentist may recommend extraction of teeth as one possible option.  Another treatment option is exposure of the impacted canines.  The un-erupted canines will be exposed by lifting the gum, a bracket will be bonded to the tooth and the tooth will be guided into place orthodontically.  In the case of younger patients, an orthodontic brace may be fitted to create a space in the dental arch for the impacted canine.