Pericoronitis is a common dental condition that you likely have already experienced without knowing it. Pericoronitis happens when a tooth doesn’t have enough room to grow out from the gums and as a result, only a small portion of it erupts. While the rest of the tooth struggles and pushes against the gums, the soft tissue around the tooth could swell up and get infected.
Pericoronitis occurs due to impacted wisdom teeth. If the wisdom tooth only partially erupts, a gum flap may develop around it. This flap has a slight opening that can trap food particles, causing bacteria buildup and infection.
Symptoms to Look Out For
The symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the angle at which the wisdom tooth grew. Common symptoms include:
- Severe pain that interferes with your daily activities
- Pain when swallowing, chewing, or grinding your teeth
- Inflamed gums around the affected area
- Inflamed lymph nodes under the chin
- Swelling on the affected side of the face
- Discharge of pus
- Bad breath caused by the pus
- Bad taste in the mouth caused by the pus
Complications can arise if you leave pericoronitis untreated. For one, the infection can spread to the adjacent teeth and other parts of the body. Sometimes, the swelling could even spread to your nape or neck. Worse, other medical conditions can develop.
One such condition is trismus or lockjaw, where the muscles in the jaw become inflamed, limiting the movement range of the mouth. When your mouth’s movements are limited, you may encounter several problems, including difficulty in eating and speaking, and oral hygiene issues.
When pericoronitis becomes severe, it may cause Ludwig’s angina. The pus from the infected tooth can accumulate and form a tooth abscess, a bacterial infection that can spread to the floor of the mouth.
Ludwig’s angina can develop even worse complications, such as swelling on the head, neck, and tongue, problems with speech, and difficulty breathing. The worst-case scenario is you may develop sepsis, a life-threatening inflammatory reaction to bacteria that throws bodily chemicals out of balance and damages multiple organ systems.
If the dentist expects that the tooth will fully erupt on its own, they may decide not to remove the gum flap. In this case, the dentist will only clean the gum area surrounding the affected tooth to remove the buildup of food particles and plaque. You may be advised to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief. If the swelling is severe or there’s an infection, the dentist might also prescribe antibiotics.
Your dentist will recommend you to a maxillofacial or oral surgeon if the gum flap requires removal. The surgeon will then decide if he or she will remove the affected tooth since there are cases when it’s better to retain the tooth.
You can also pair your professional treatment with simple home remedies. Warm salt-water rinses, proper flossing and brushing, and over-the-counter pain relievers can alleviate the discomfort.
The best way to deal with pericoronitis, or any dental condition, is to consult your dentist at the first sign of trouble. Immediate action can prevent further complications and save you from debilitating pain. Practice good oral habits to keep your chompers strong and healthy.