Sometime during late adolescence (between the ages of 17-21), wisdom teeth begin pushing through the gums. These wisdom teeth may become impacted due to a lack of space in the mouth. The impacted teeth can be painless, or it can cause the gum on top of it to become infected. If it happens to become infected; this condition is referred to as pericoronitis.
What is pericoronitis and how is it caused?
Pericoronitis is the inflammation of gum tissue around an impacted wisdom tooth. The growth of soft tissue over a partially erupted wisdom tooth is called an operculum. The operculum is, essentially, a flap of gum tissue that tends to hold food particles, causing bacteria to flourish. This causes the inflammation and then the formation of an abscess under the operculum. If the abscess stays untreated, the infection will spread and eventually lead to pericoronitis.
Types of pericoronitis
The two types of pericoronitis are:
- Chronic pericoronitis: this is a mild inflammation of the area that doesn’t disappear. The symptoms are either minor or non-existent.
- Acute pericoronitis: this occurs when the infection has spread, causing swelling, fever and pain.
Symptoms of pericoronitis
- Swollen gum tissue around the areas of the affected tooth/teeth;
- A foul odour/taste in your mouth;
- Leakage of pus from the swollen gum tissue
Serious symptoms of pericoronitis
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck;
- Swelling on the side of the face with the affected tooth;
- Muscle spasms in the jaw
How can pericoronitis be prevented?
Pericoronitis can be treated by regular dental check-ups, as well as good oral hygiene practices that work to ensure that food particles and bacteria don’t accumulate beneath the gums. With regular dental visits, the dentist can determine whether or not the operculum will have to be removed, or if the affected wisdom tooth will have to be extracted. Having wisdom teeth removed before they can erupt will prevent pericoronitis.
How is pericoronitis treated?
Depending on how severe the pericoronitis is, there are three possible treatments that can provide relief:
- Managing the pain and reducing the inflammation of the gum tissue
Acute pericoronitis can be managed by over-the-counter pain-killers. A dentist will also have to clean out the infected area whilst you are under local anaesthesia. An oral rinse will then be prescribed to keep the area clean. A salt and water rinse is also effective. Fever or swelling may be treated with oral antibiotics.
- Removal of the operculum through minor oral surgery.
Having the operculum removed will allow you more access to clean the area more thoroughly, thereby preventing a build-up of bacteria. Your dentist will refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who will perform the surgery. However, there is a possibility of the gum tissue growing back, causing the same problem.
- Extraction of wisdom teeth
Extracting the wisdom teeth prevents any future occurrence of pericoronitis. However, if your dentist is of the opinion that the wisdom teeth may erupt without posing any issues, they will be left alone. But, if the pericoronitis returns, the wisdom teeth will have to be removed.
Treatment of more severe symptoms
Where severe symptoms occur, such as the swelling of the lymph nodes- emergency treatment is needed. The swelling of lymph nodes indicates that the infection is spreading, which would require intravenous antibiotics and surgery.
Prognosis for pericoronitis
Early treatment and proper oral care will ensure that pericoronitis is properly managed or completely resolved within a week or two. It is imperative that the initial cause of the infection be addressed to prevent the condition from returning.
Although rare, there is the possibility of complications occurring. The spread of infection from the mouth, into the neck and head, can lead to a serious condition called “Ludwig’s angina”, in which the airway becomes blocked. The spread of infection into the bloodstream (sepsis) can also be life-threatening, which is why symptoms of pericoronitis should be dealt with timeously.
If you’re worried about those wisdom teeth and the possibility of pericoronitis occurring, come see us at Wahroonga Family Centre, where our friendly dentists will give you a diagnosis and help you take the next step forward. if you’re already experiencing symptoms of pericoronitis- give us a call and we will make sure you receive quality treatment and are well-taken care off by our dedicated team.