Pericoronitis is inflammation of the gum tissue around your wisdom teeth. This can happen when a tooth is still partially impacted. Pericoronitis symptoms range from mild to severe and may include bad breath, pus and facial swelling. Left untreated, pericoronitis can be dangerous. Prompt care is essential.
Pericoronitis is swelling of the gum tissue around your wisdom teeth. Sometimes called third molars, your wisdom teeth are the last set of adult teeth to erupt (grow in) — usually in your late teens or early 20s.
Pericoronitis may develop around one or more wisdom teeth. It typically happens when a tooth is still partially impacted (trapped) under the gum tissue. The condition is also more likely to develop around lower wisdom teeth, though it can affect upper ones, too.
If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, a gum flap can form over the top of it. This flap — called an operculum — usually covers part of your tooth crown. Food, bacteria and debris can get trapped underneath the operculum and cause infection.
A common dental condition, pericoronitis can affect anyone with wisdom teeth. But the condition is most common in people aged 20 to 29. It affects all sexes equally.
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Pericoronitis may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).
Acute pericoronitis symptoms may include:
Chronic pericoronitis symptoms may include:
Partial tooth impaction is the main pericoronitis cause. When a tooth is partially trapped in your gums, bacteria can build up and lead to swelling and inflammation.
You’re more likely to develop pericoronitis if you:
Pericoronitis itself isn’t contagious. But the bacteria that cause it can spread to others through saliva. Therefore, someone with pericoronitis could transmit infection by kissing or sharing cups and eating utensils.
Pericoronitis treatment varies for each person. Depending on the severity of inflammation, your dentist may recommend cleaning the area, antibiotics, pericoronitis mouthwash, pericoronitis removal or wisdom teeth removal.
Your dentist irrigates the affected area to flush out any food particles, bacteria or other debris. They may also prescribe medications, such as antibiotics or an antibacterial mouthwash.
Oral antibiotics can help clear up a pericoronitis infection. Be sure to take any medications exactly as directed by your healthcare provider.
Your dentist may recommend using a prescription mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine, a topical antiseptic. It helps destroy harmful bacteria in your mouth.
People who use chlorhexidine rinses may develop temporary side effects, such as a change in taste or dental staining. These side effects are typically short-lived. Be sure to follow the instructions provided by your dentist.
In many cases, your dentist may recommend removing the gum flap (operculum). This requires a short oral surgery procedure. Sedation is available, but often unnecessary. Typically, your provider can complete this procedure with local anesthesia in less than one hour.
If your wisdom tooth continues to cause pericoronitis and other problems, wisdom tooth removal may be necessary. An oral surgeon or periodontist can perform this procedure with or without sedation.
To ease your pericoronitis symptoms at home, you can:
It depends on the situation and the severity of your condition. For instance, mild cases of pericoronitis may last a few days, while severe cases can last several weeks.
With treatment, pericoronitis usually goes away in a week or two. Left untreated, however, your symptoms will likely return.
You can’t prevent pericoronitis altogether. Sometimes, it can occur even if you have excellent oral hygiene. But there are ways to reduce your risk:
If you have pericoronitis, your dentist will talk with you about your treatment options. They may monitor your condition if your symptoms are mild. Or they may clean the area and prescribe antibiotics.
Severe cases usually require surgery. If your wisdom teeth are otherwise healthy, they may recommend surgery to remove the gum flap (operculum) so bacteria is less likely to accumulate there.
If your wisdom teeth are problematic, you may need to have them removed. This common oral surgery procedure usually takes about an hour to complete, and recovery typically lasts a week or two.
Sometimes, pericoronitis occurs temporarily as a wisdom tooth is erupting. In these cases, your dentist might monitor your condition to see if it goes away on its own.
If your wisdom teeth continue to cause problems, though, your dentist will talk with you about your treatment options.
Left untreated, pericoronitis can develop into an abscess. When this happens, infection can spread to other parts of your body. In severe cases, it can even be life-threatening.
With treatment, people usually recover from pericoronitis in a week or two. It’s important to seek care early on, before things worsen.
Yes. If you develop pericoronitis symptoms — such as pain, fever or bleeding gums — schedule an appointment with a dentist right away. They can prescribe antibiotics to clear up any infection and determine if further treatment is necessary.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Left untreated, pericoronitis can cause a domino-effect of oral and overall health problems. When diagnosed and treated early on, the condition is easily managed. Some people with pericoronitis only require monitoring, while others may need surgery to either remove the gum flap or remove the affected wisdom tooth. Ask your dentist which treatment option is right for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/11/2022.
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