What Is It?
Your wisdom teeth (third molars) usually start to erupt (enter your mouth) during the late teen years. Sometimes, there's not enough room for them. They may come into your mouth partially or not at all. Partial eruption of a wisdom tooth can create a flap of gum tissue next to the tooth. The flap can trap bits of food and debris. It can turn into a hotbed for bacteria. It's called pericoronitis if the tissue around the tooth becomes inflamed. Pericoronitis also can occur around a wisdom tooth that is still completely under the gums.
Painful, swollen gum tissue in the area of the affected tooth. It can be difficult to bite down comfortably without catching the swollen tissue between your teeth.
A bad smell or taste in the mouth
Discharge of pus from the gum near the tooth
More serious symptoms include:
Swollen lymph nodes under your chin (the submandibular nodes)
Muscle spasms in the jaw
Swelling on the affected side of the face
Usually, someone with pericoronitis goes to the dentist, complaining of pain in the area of the back tooth. Pericoronitis is diagnosed during the clinical exam. Your dentist will see inflamed gum tissue in the area of the unerupted or partly erupted wisdom tooth. The gums may be red, swollen or draining fluid or pus.
Pericoronitis can be managed with antibiotics and warm salt water rinses. It goes away in about one week. However, it can return. This is likely to happen if the tooth does not completely enter the mouth and food and bacteria keep building up under the gum.
You can help to prevent pericoronitis by brushing any erupting wisdom tooth and flossing around it. This will help make sure that food and bacteria do not build up under the gums. However, sometimes these steps do not work. If pericoronitis returns, you may need to have the flap of gum tissue removed. In some cases, the flap of tissue grows back and the wisdom tooth will need to be extracted.
Pericoronitis can be tricky to treat. That's because the flap of gum tissue won't go away until the wisdom tooth emerges naturally, the tissue is removed or the tooth is removed. Your dentist will clean the area thoroughly by rinsing under the flap with water to remove bits of food and pus. Your dentist also may need to remove damaged tissue. If the area is infected, you'll most likely be given antibiotics.
Your dentist will explain how to keep the area clean, which is the best way to prevent the problem from returning. This usually involves brushing and flossing daily and rinsing your mouth with water several times a day. These steps will help to prevent food from getting stuck under the gum flap.
In some cases, your dentist may suggest removing the erupting tooth. Or the dentist may want to remove the tooth above it, which bites down on the gum below. If your dentist thinks the tooth may erupt fully into the mouth without problems, he or she may leave it alone. However, if pericoronitis comes back, the tooth may be extracted.
Pericoronitis that causes symptoms should be treated as soon as possible. If it is not, the infection can spread to other areas of your mouth. The most severe cases are treated in a hospital. They sometimes require intravenous antibiotics and surgery.
When To Call a Professional
If you have symptoms of pericoronitis, make an appointment to see your dentist. If your wisdom teeth are coming in, visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups. During those visits, the dentist can check on the progress of your wisdom teeth.
Pericoronitis does not cause any long-term effects. If the affected tooth is removed or erupts fully into the mouth, the condition cannot return.