What is Pericoronitis?

Wisdom teeth are aptly named as they are the last teeth to erupt in life, usually coming in during your late teens or early twenties when a few more of life’s lessons have been learned. Pericoronitis occurs around a wisdom tooth that has failed to come in or has only partially erupted. A partially-erupted wisdom tooth can leave a flap of gum tissue that collects food particles and other debris - an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

What are the symptoms of pericoronitis?

  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth, resulting from infected tissue
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Pain and possible discharge of pus in the area of tooth involved
  • Swelling in the back of the mouth, to the point where biting may be difficult due to tissue pinched between teeth
  • Difficulty opening your mouth to its fullest extent

If you experience any of these symptoms, consider rinsing your mouth with warm salt water to help soothe the pain and cope with gum swelling. But be sure to visit the dentist as quickly as possible, as this infection will not clear on its own and may get worse.

How is pericoronitis treated?

First, your dentist will flush away the accumulated food particles and other debris from the area. Then, he or she will prescribe a course of oral antibiotics to clear up the infection. He or she will also recommend an antibacterial oral rinse that you can use to clear the infected area. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers, or a pain reliever prescribed by your dentist, to manage the pain.

What happens next depends on the status of the wisdom tooth. Sometimes, pericoronitis develops near a tooth that is still in the process of erupting, which will continue to come in normally. In that case, your dentist will monitor the area to ensure that it stays clean and infection does not recur, until the tooth has fully come in. If your symptoms are severe, it may also be necessary to have minor oral surgery to remove the flap of gum tissue (called the operculum).

If it appears that the wisdom tooth will not come in normally, the dentist may recommend that it be removed. Sometimes, the dentist may remove both upper and lower wisdom teeth, to prevent the upper tooth from biting into the lower gum and causing further infection.

 Can I prevent pericoronitis?

Pericoronitis sometimes occurs even with excellent dental care. The best preventive strategy is to brush and floss regularly, use an antibacterial rinse, and follow any other recommendations your dentist gives you for good oral hygiene.

Source: Columbia College of Dental Medicine Dental library