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Pericoronitis

Pericoronitis is inflammation of the gum tissue around molar teeth, such as an impacted wisdom tooth, or one that's partially broken through.

What causes pericoronitis?

Pericoronitis can develop when wisdom teeth only partially erupt (break through the gum). This allows an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection. In cases of pericoronitis, food or plaque (a bacterial film that remains on teeth after eating) may get caught underneath a flap of gum around the tooth. If it remains there, it can irritate the gum and lead to pericoronitis. If the pericoronitis is severe, the swelling and infection may extend beyond the jaw to the cheeks and neck.

What are the symptoms of pericoronitis?

Symptoms of pericoronitis can include:

  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Swelling in the gum tissue (caused by an accumulation of fluid)
  • A "bad taste" in the mouth (caused by pus leaking from the gums)
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty opening the mouth.

How is pericoronitis diagnosed?

Your dentist will examine your wisdom teeth and how they are coming in, and see if any are partially erupted. He or she may take an X-ray periodically to determine the alignment of the wisdom teeth. Your dentist will also take note of any symptoms such as swelling or infection, and will check for the presence of a gum flap around a wisdom tooth.

How is pericoronitis treated?

If the pericoronitis is limited to the tooth (for example, if the pain and swelling has not spread), treat it by rinsing your mouth with warm salt water. You should also make sure that the gum flap has no food trapped under it.

If your tooth, jaw and cheek are swollen and painful, see your dentist right away. He or she can treat the infection with appropriate antibiotics. You can also take pain relievers such as aspirin paracetamol or ibuprofen.

If the pain and inflammation are severe, or if the pericoronitis recurs, oral surgery to have the gum flap or wisdom tooth removed may be necessary. 

Your dentist can make the appropriate referral to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 17, 2016

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