If you haven’t had your wisdom teeth removed and they have only partially erupted, you could be at risk for a condition called pericoronitis. Read on to learn more about this condition, its signs, and how to treat it.
Pericoronitis is an inflammatory infection underneath the operculum, which is excess gum that surrounds partially erupted teeth. This condition is different from periodontal disease because it affects specific gum tissue around the impacted/semi-erupted tooth and not the entire mouth.
Because partially erupted wisdom teeth are further back in the mouth and harder to clean around, it’s easy for food debris to get caught underneath the operculum and cause infection.
Some people may experience acute pericoronitis, where the body heals itself and the tooth erupts with no problem. Some people have chronic pericoronitis, where they keep experiencing symptoms from persistent infection.
You may experience pain—especially if there isn’t enough room in your mouth for the wisdom tooth to fully erupt. Like other gum diseases, you may have red, tender, and swollen gum tissue.
Some people may have bad breath, difficulty opening their mouths all the way, and have difficulty swallowing.
If the infection gets more severe, you can develop a pocket of pus called an abscess. If an abscess ruptures and isn’t treated, the infection can spread to other areas of your body and even be life-threatening. Severe pericoronitis can cause complications like Ludwig’s angina, an infection that can spread to the rest of your head and neck.
Because some of these symptoms can overlap other conditions, like enamel decay or gingivitis, your dentist will need to take x-rays and do an oral evaluation to make sure the erupting wisdom tooth is the culprit.
There are many ways to treat pericoronitis depending on the severity of the infection and whether or not the wisdom tooth will fully erupt.
For mild acute cases, your dentist may have you manage your pain with over-the-counter medication. He or she may also teach you how to use an oral irrigator. These devices send streams of water to help clear away debris underneath gum flaps.
You may also need to floss the area after each meal to keep the infection from getting worse. Your dentist can prescribe an oral rinse, like chlorhexidine, which will decrease the bacteria in your mouth.
If you have enough room in your mouth to support the wisdom teeth, then eventually they will fully erupt and you won’t have to worry about debris getting beneath gum flaps.
Moderate to Severe Cases
For more difficult cases, your dentist might recommend a minor surgery called an operculectomy. During this procedure, he or she would remove any gum flaps around erupting teeth so that they are easier to clean and don’t collect bacteria and food debris. You may also need to take a course of antibiotics.
If the wisdom tooth won’t erupt correctly because it’s tilted or because your jaw is too small to support it, your dentist may recommend an extraction.
Extractions can be done at general dentistry offices under local anesthetic, or your dentist can recommend an oral surgeon to do the procedure while you are under general anesthesia. While you may balk at an extraction, it can be really beneficial for people with chronic pericoronitis since you won’t have to worry about repeat infections and chronic symptoms.
After an extraction, you may still be required to use antibiotics until the dentist is sure your infection has cleared. If there is still infected gum tissue, your dentist might refer you to a periodontist for a deeper gum cleaning.
Reach out to Vanyo Dentistry to learn more about tooth extractions and how to treat pericoronitis.