Pericoronitis is one of those medical terms that rarely comes up in daily conversation, and it sounds vaguely overwhelming. Although infected wisdom teeth is quite a bit more common sounding, it is no less intimidating. People, in general, don’t want to think about having an infection, and certainly don’t want to have an infection in their teeth. If you are having symptoms typical of an infected wisdom tooth, you are likely looking to understand both what’s going on and what you can do about it right away! So, what is pericoronitis and what can you do about it immediately and at home?
What are Wisdom Teeth?
You may be wondering exactly what a wisdom tooth is, to begin with. Unfortunately, these teeth don’t actually impart any great wisdom to you. They’re called wisdom teeth because we’re older and wiser when they erupt–grow in. They usually arrive between the ages of 17-21. Dentists generally refer to them as third molars because they are the third set of molars to develop and grow in during the development of permanent teeth. On paper, it all looks fine—but in life, it can be more complex.
What Causes an Infected Wisdom Tooth?
Problems can arise because the wisdom teeth are the last ones to the party. Wisdom teeth often find the oral environment crowded, leaving them insufficient room to break through the gums. Sometimes, they can’t break through at all, becoming impacted wisdom teeth. Sometimes, they break through part of the way and get stuck or paused. Since the tooth makes it part of the way out, this may sound like less of a problem, but it carries its own set of troubles.
A tooth that has only come partway in frequently has a flap of gum tissue partially covering it. This flap makes it harder to brush properly, and the flap can trap food particles under it. The trapped particles and bacteria that aren’t removed by brushing irritate the gum tissue. Gum tissue can be further irritated by pressure from the top teeth directly on the gum tissue while chewing. Bacteria + irritated tissue = a formula for trouble.
What is Pericoronitis?
The word comes from several Latin and Greek terms: peri, meaning around, corona, meaning crown, and -itis, meaning inflamed. So, pericoronitis is inflammation of the tissue surrounding the crown (the top surface) of the tooth.
How to Treat Periocoronitis
If you are in pain, you will need to check in with your dentist. It’s important not to ignore pain since it’s your body’s attempt to draw your attention to a problem. The sooner you have the problem evaluated, the better the chance for a simple, complete solution. You may need a long-term treatment plan to determine if your wisdom tooth will need to be extracted. Sometimes, the tooth will be fine if the excess gum flap is removed. This procedure, whether done by laser or more traditional methods, is called an operculectomy. Infections in the gums and tooth can spread to the jaw, or in very rare cases, the bloodstream, so it’s important to take this seriously.
Home Treatment Plans for an Infected Wisdom Tooth
Whether you’re waiting for an appointment to be seen by the dentist or working to maintain an excellent home care routine to support healing of the pericoronitis after being seen by your dental care team, there are steps you can take at home. The first thing you’ll want to do is reduce the swelling and inflammation and address the bacterial growth. Antibiotic rinses can provide both symptom relief and important treatment. Rinsing with warm saltwater is a good start. Antibiotic treatment with an alcohol-free antibiotic dental rinse can help with more inflamed tissue. Regular use can also keep gums from overgrowing bacteria while waiting for the wisdom tooth to grow in or can help clean up an infection before treating the inflamed gums.
Of course, it’s vital to maintain excellent oral care while dealing with any oral condition. Bacteria neutralizing high pH products can help keep conditions unfavorable for future infection. If any symptoms worsen, it’s important to seek professional help right away to prevent serious complications. While pericoronitis may be extremely unpleasant, with the right care, it’s highly treatable.