Over the last 12,000 years, the human jaw shape has changed in response to the shift of our diets from hunter-gatherer to agriculture-based foods. Yet, generally, people’s teeth haven’t undergone a similar change. This has resulted in most people not having a large enough jaw to accommodate the last set of teeth, our wisdom teeth. This mismatch often leads to a variety of dental problems such as crowding, cavities, gum disease, and cyst formation, along with associated pain. While many people have their wisdom teeth extracted prior to experiencing any of these problems, some patients choose to postpone or delay a recommended extraction. When this happens, adverse issues can arise. A common problem called pericoronitis occurs when a wisdom tooth (or third molar) doesn’t fully erupt and becomes irritated.
What is Pericoronitis?
Pericoronitis is the inflammation of gum tissue surrounding the crown of the tooth, usually occurring in partly-erupted wisdom teeth. Inflammation, pain, and possible infection occurs because a section of soft tissue, called a “gum flap,” traps food and bacteria over the exposed part of the tooth. Inadequate oral hygiene, stress, respiratory tract infections, or hormonal changes can increase the risk of infection and can lead to other significant health problems.
Symptoms of pericoronitis vary among individuals, either showing up as chronic or acute symptoms depending on the severity of the infection. Chronic symptoms include dull pain, swollen gum tissue in the affected area, discomfort, and a bad taste in the mouth. Acute symptoms include pus, swollen lymph nodes under the chin, severe pain, pain swallowing, fever, and swelling on one side of the face.
Once pericoronitis is diagnosed, the most common treatment is removal of the troublesome wisdom tooth. Your dentist may irrigate the site, prescribe antibiotics to temporarily relieve your pain and then refer you to your local oral surgeon for extraction. If left untreated, pericoronitis can progress to a serious facial infection requiring extensive treatment, so heed your dentists recommendations. And remember to visit your dentist regularly; early detection is the key to keeping a smile that is healthy and pain-free.