Pericoronitis is a dental disorder in which gum tissue becomes swollen and infected around the wisdom teeth, the third and final set of molars that most people get in their late teens or early twenties.
What Causes Pericoronitis?
Pericoronitis can develop when wisdom teeth only partially erupt (break through the gum). This allows an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection. In cases of pericoronitis, food or plaque (a bacterial film that remains on teeth after eating) may get caught underneath a flap of gum around the tooth. If it remains there, it can irritate the gum and lead to pericoronitis. If the pericoronitis is severe, the swelling and infection may extend beyond the jaw to the cheeks and neck.
What Are the Symptoms of Pericoronitis?
Symptoms of pericoronitis can include:
- Swelling in the gum tissue (caused by an accumulation of fluid)
- A "bad taste" in the mouth (caused by pus leaking from the gums)
- Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck
- Difficulty opening the mouth
How Is Pericoronitis Diagnosed?
Your dentist will examine your wisdom teeth to see how they are coming in, and determine if they are partially erupted. He or she may take an X-ray periodically to determine the alignment of the wisdom teeth. Your dentist will also take note of any symptoms such as swelling or infection, and will check for the presence of a gum flap around a wisdom tooth.
How Is Pericoronitis Treated?
If the pericoronitis is limited to the tooth (for example, if the pain and swelling has not spread), treat it by rinsing your mouth with warm salt water. You should also make sure that the gum flap has no food trapped under it.
If your tooth, jaw, and cheek are swollen and painful, see your dentist right away. He or she can treat the infection with antibiotics (usually penicillin, unless you are allergic). You can also take pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. The dentist may also prescribe a pain medication.
If the pain and inflammation are severe, or if the pericoronitis recurs, it may be necessary to have oral surgery to remove the gum flap or wisdom tooth. Your dentist can make the appropriate referral to the oral and maxillofacial surgeon. A low-level laser can be used to reduce pain and inflammation associated with pericoronitis.