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What is Pericoronitis - Symptoms and Treatment

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    The eruption of the third and final set of molars, or the so-called wisdom teeth, almost always causes problems. As a matter of fact, wisdom tooth removal is among the most commonly performed surgeries in dental practices. The procedure is often required when the gums around the emerging tooth become inflamed.

    Here, you will learn more about pericoronitis, including its symptoms and possible treatment options. We will also go over some commonly asked questions about this condition. So, please read ahead!

    What is pericoronitis?

    Pericoronitis is a condition in which the gum tissue surrounding an erupting tooth becomes inflamed. A typical area in the mouth where adults suffer from pericoronitis is the wisdom teeth area.

    Wisdom teeth are quite often not able to fully erupt. Instead, they remain part-erupted and part-submerged in the alveolar bone, covered with a thin layer of gum tissue. As this tissue is not firmly attached, it can move slightly and create a little pocket where food and bacteria can easily enter and become trapped. As a result, this soft tissue growth becomes infected, painful and swollen.

    Symptoms of pericoronitis

    Symptoms of pericoronitis may vary from mild and moderate to severe. It usually depends on whether you have acute or chronic pericoronitis.

    Mild symptoms that are more common with chronic pericoronitis include:

    • Dull pain and discomfort around the crown of the affected tooth
    • Bad breath and bad taste

    Acute pericoronitis is more likely to cause moderate to severe signs and symptoms, such as:

    • Severe pain in the area of the back teeth
    • Swelling of the soft tissue
    • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
    • Discharge of pus
    • Loss of appetite
    • Infection

    In rare cases, the infection may spread and cause fever and lymphadenopathy or swollen glands.

    When to see a doctor?

    If you experience any of the pericoronitis symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your dentist. Although in some cases, you might be able to manage the condition at home, it is still essential to talk to a specialist. The doctor will check your teeth and mouth and will take an x-ray to see whether you have a partially erupted wisdom tooth that is causing the problem. Your doctor will also decide what treatment is best for you, depending on the severity of the condition.

    If you get a fever, swollen lymph nodes, sickness, jaw spasms and other severe symptoms, do not waste time and call your dentist immediately. Such signs usually indicate a spreading infection and might be life-threatening, so it is crucial to seek immediate medical help.

    Pericoronitis treatment: How do dentists treat pericoronitis?

    female dentist examining patient for pericoronitis

    Your dentist will recommend a treatment for you depending on the severity of pericoronitis. If you have a mild infection, you might be given instructions on how to manage the condition at home. In case you experience soreness and swelling in the cheek and jaw area, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and pain medicine. Severe infection of the gum tissue may need to be addressed with minor oral surgery. If pericoronitis occurs frequently to you, your dentists may also recommend extracting the wisdom tooth that causes the problem.

    Oral rinses and pain management

    If you suffer from a mild form of pericoronitis, then your dentist may clean out food debris and residue from the affected area and instruct you on how to manage it at home. You may be advised that you rinse your mouth with warm salt water and practice good oral hygiene. To relieve pain and discomfort, the dentist may also prescribe topical or oral medicine.

    Antibiotic treatment

    If you have a bacterial infection and swelling in your cheeks and jaw, your dentist can prescribe you oral antibiotics. These medicines will help to relieve the swollen gum tissue and prevent the progression of the wisdom tooth infection.

    Oral surgery to remove the gum flap

    When you have more severe inflammation of the gum tissue, then you may need to undergo minor surgery called operculectomy. This is a procedure which involves the removal of the gum flap (operculum) or the overlapping gingival tissue that is forming the pocket. The gum flap surgery allows the partially erupted tooth to come in. However, it is still possible for the flap to grow back, causing pericoronitis again. This might necessitate a second surgery.

    Wisdom tooth extraction

    In most cases, dentists recommend the removal of the affected wisdom tooth. This is the only treatment that can totally eliminate pericoronitis. The procedure is relatively straightforward and in most cases is carried out under local anaesthesia.

    At-home management of pericoronitis

    woman taking pain relievers at home to treat pericoronitis tooth ache

    It's normal to experience mild pericoronitis when your third molars first erupt. The symptoms usually last only a few days, but you may want to take certain precautions at home.

    • Use mild pain relievers and common anti-inflammatory medicine, which you may buy from your local pharmacy store. If you are not sure what to get, consult your doctor about it.
    • Be sure to follow a conscientious oral hygiene regimen. Clean frequently and thoroughly the affected area. Use a soft toothbrush and, with careful, gentle movements, try to remove the food particles that may have been wedged underneath the gums.
    • Use mild antiseptic oral rinse, 2-3 times per day. Such practice will help you alleviate the swollen tissue and keep it free from food debris.
    • Avoid hot and spicy meals as well as sticky and hard foods during the inflammation period. Choose soft and cool food like fruits and vegetables.

    Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to monitor the eruption of your third molars. Depending on the situation, he/she may recommend early extraction of the teeth to prevent pericoronitis and other problems.

    Pericoronitis during pregnancy

    Pregnant women are more likely to develop pericoronitis and other gum diseases. This is because the hormonal changes during this period make the gums more vulnerable to accumulating plaque, which in turn increases the risk of inflammation.

    Women who are pregnant and suffer from pericoronitis need to be especially cautious since this condition can negatively affect the fetus. Treating pericoronitis during pregnancy must be coordinated between a dentist, gynaecologist, and general practitioner.

    Mild cases of pericoronitis in pregnant women are usually treatable with adequate dental hygiene, oral irrigates, and rinses. In terms of wisdom tooth extractions, dentists usually prefer to postpone these kinds of treatments out of caution. However, if a woman has severe pericoronitis, the dentist may decide to undertake wisdom tooth extraction.

    How long does pericoronitis last?

    Symptoms of pericoronitis may last from a few days to two weeks or even longer. Chronic pericoronitis might return occasionally and cause minor pain that lasts for a few days. Acute pericoronitis might last a few days or several weeks. The time it takes for pericoronitis symptoms to go away and infection to heal varies on the severity of the condition, your immunity, and the type of treatment used.

    Mild chronic symptoms may disappear within a week with correct therapy and meticulous oral hygiene. If you have severe acute symptoms, and you should get gum flap surgery, then it may take about 7 to 10 days for your gum to fully heal. If you undergo wisdom tooth removal surgery, then your healing may last anywhere from 4 to 10 days. The recovery time greatly depends on the complexity of the procedure.

    Frequently asked questions

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