It is usually in the late teen years that the wisdom teeth or the third molars start to erupt. For some, this isn't a problem. They go on with their lives not even noticing that their wisdom teeth have entered their mouths. But for some, it can be a major setback especially when there's not enough room for them to squeeze in. They may erupt partially or not at all.
When partial eruption creates a gum tissue next to the tooth and this gum tissue traps food and debris and eventually breeds bacteria, it can bring inflammation and infection. That's when you know you have pericoronitis. In other words, this is a dental ailment characterized by the infection and inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding the molar teeth.
Symptoms of less serious pericoronitis include:
- difficulty opening the mouth
- bad taste or smell in the mouth
- swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck
- painful, swollen gum tissue around the affected tooth
The painful and swollen gum tissue may make it difficult for a person to bite down comfortably. They often catch the swollen tissue between their teeth.
The bad taste or smell comes from the pus that is leaking from the gum due to the infection.
Symptoms that indicate a more serious pericoronitis are:
- muscle spasms in the jaw
- swelling on one side of the face
- swollen lymph nodes under the chin or the submandibular nodes
When you visit your dentist, he/she will examine the wisdom teeth to see if there are any that have partially erupted. An X-ray will be taken to see the alignment of the wisdom teeth. Your dentist will ask you for any of the symptoms mentioned above such as infection, pain, and swelling. He/she will also check to see if there has been a gum flap that developed around your wisdom tooth.
If the pain and swelling affect only the area around the tooth, meaning they have not yet spread to other areas of the mouth, this can be treated by rinsing the mouth with warm salt water. Check to see if there is any food particles trapped under the gum flap and remove them right away.
If swelling and pain has spread to the other teeth and jaw, go to your dentist immediately. Your dentist will treat the infection with antibiotics such as penicillin. Make sure you tell your dentist if you're allergic to this. You will also be asked to take pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen. In some cases, low-level laser is used to relieve pain and inflammation.
Oral surgery to remove the gum flap or extract the wisdom tooth may be in order if the pain and inflammation become severe or if the condition recurs after treatment. Your dentist will refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.