Pericoronitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

With age comes wisdom, or so the saying goes. A short trip visiting any of the video sharing sites on the internet may invite you to rethink that saying. Wisdom may not feel like the inevitable result of age in the era of the internet. However, we do know that, inevitably, with age comes wisdom teeth. So-called because you are older (and have had the opportunity to grow in the attainment of knowledge) when they break through, wisdom teeth are the last set of molars to arrive in the adult teeth. As wisdom teeth attempt to emerge in the back of the mouth, things can go wrong. The mouth is frequently crowded before the wisdom teeth arrive, leading to trouble. One such difficulty, pericoronitis, can be a real pain. So, what exactly is pericoronitis, what are the symptoms, and what can be done to treat it?

What is Pericoronitis?

Pericoronitis is an inflammation and infection of a specific part of the gums. It happens in the gums around the wisdom teeth, more often the bottom gums than the top gums.

When a wisdom tooth is growing through the gums, sometimes it gets “stuck”, possibly from a lack of space for the tooth to grow in fully. This can leave a piece of gum tissue, called an operculum, covering part of the tooth surface. It’s really hard to keep this piece of gum tissue clean. Food can get trapped under it, feeding the bacteria that live in your mouth and allowing them to overgrow and cause an infection. Making it even trickier, the flap of skin can get injured when you chew, causing serious irritation and inflammation. Between the bacteria and the chewing injury potential, pericoronitis can quickly become a serious oral health issue.

What Are the Symptoms of Pericoronitis?

If you are suffering from pericoronitis, the first symptom you are likely to notice is pain. The pain may be right in the gum at the site of the infection, but you also may feel it in the jaw, tongue, and throat. In addition to the pain, you may have a bad taste in your mouth from the bacteria. The bacterial growth can also cause bad breath. You can also have swelling in your face or glands. It’s also possible for pericoronitis to cause fever. However, if you suspect you have an infection of any kind in your mouth and you begin running a fever, it’s important to touch base with your dental care team promptly. A high fever with pericoronitis can be a sign of oral sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition.

If you have any of the symptoms of pericoronitis, check in with your dental care team to confirm your suspicions and develop an appropriate treatment plan to take care of the condition before it becomes a serious problem.

How Can You Treat Pericoronitis?

The size of the gum flap (operculum) involved and the amount of room in your mouth for the incoming wisdom teeth will be important factors in deciding how to treat your pericoronitis. If you have room for the incoming teeth and the wisdom teeth are growing in properly, you and your oral care team may opt to give the teeth some time to finish growing in and finish pushing the operculum out of the way. While you are waiting, you will need to take excellent care of your teeth and gums, brushing carefully to eliminate food particles. Saltwater rinses or an antimicrobial oral rinse can be another tool to help keep the area properly cleaned.

Sometimes, your oral care team may recommend a minor surgical procedure called an operculectomy, which removes just the flap of tissue. It can be done by laser surgery or by conventional methods. By removing the extra flap, it removes the trap for food particles and makes it possible to keep the area clean, reducing the chance of infection developing. If there isn’t room in your mouth or if the wisdom teeth are impacted and will not be able to grow in properly, your oral care team may recommend treating your pericoronitis by removing the wisdom tooth completely. It’s important to treat pericoronitis because it is an infection in your mouth that can lead to further health issues, but it’s just as important to understand your options for treatment and develop a care plan in cooperation with your oral care team that you feel comfortable with. The good news is, when caught early, you probably will have options for care, and treatment is generally very successful.

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