For some people, the wisdom teeth are nothing but trouble. Although the wisdom teeth, or third molars were once a necessary feature in the mouth, needed to help early humans chew up the tough meats and foods they ate, today’s humans have no need for them. Plus, the modern human mouth is considerably smaller than the size of the mouths of human ancestors.
While many people are able to have their wisdom teeth taken out in a simple surgery, without any issues or infections, some people do develop pericoronitis. Pericoronitis is an infection near the wisdom tooth or teeth. It often develops when the teeth become impacted or aren’t able to fully erupt.
Sometimes, the gum breaks in the area near the impacted wisdom tooth. It’s possible for food to get trapped in the gum, creating an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Although pericoronitis can develop on either side of the mouth or on the top or bottom rows, it’s more common on the bottom row.
What Causes It
Pericoronitis occurs when a tooth only comes in part way and when a portion of gum tissue is left over the tooth. The gum tissue often has an opening that is the perfect place for food to become lodged and for bacteria to accumulate. The bacteria are what are responsible for the infection. As they multiply, the gum becomes more and more inflamed. An abscess can form, which is usually filled with pus. If not treated in a timely way, the pus can spread to other areas of the mouth, spreading the infection.
How Do You Know if You Have Pericoronitis?
Pericoronitis has several symptoms. The intensity of symptoms varies based on how severe the infection is. In a mild case, a person might have some pain and discomfort near the effected wisdom teeth. In more severe cases, the pain can make it difficult to chew or open the mouth all the way.
Some people develop bad breath or an unpleasant taste in their mouths, as well. Pus from the infection can leak out of the gums, leaving a bad taste behind.
It’s possible for the infection to spread to other areas, such as the lymph nodes. If the infection has spread, symptoms can include swollen glands, fever and a general feeling of malaise.
How you treat pericoronitis depends on how severe it is. In the most mild of cases, you might see some relief by rinsing out your mouth with saline or a mouthwash. If the infection is more severe, your dentist might prescribe antibiotics to clear it up. A pain reliever that also reduces swelling, such a ibuprofen, can also help improve your comfort.
For some patients, oral surgery is the best option for coping with pericoronitis. An oral surgeon can remove the gum flap from the back of the mouth to prevent food and bacteria from getting lodged in it. Another option is to have the wisdom teeth removed entirely.
Removing the Wisdom Teeth
By the time a patient has pericoronitis, it’s likely that there is little a surgeon can do to save the wisdom teeth. It is possible for the infection to clear up and not return once the teeth have fully erupted. But, if they are impacted, it’s unlikely that they will be able to come in naturally or without causing further problems with the mouth.
Wisdom teeth removal surgery typically involves using either a local anesthetic or a local anesthetic with sedation. Which option is best for a patient depends on his or her preferences and how complicated the surgery is likely to be. The more complicated and drawn out a procedure to remove the wisdom teeth, the more likely it is for a patient to prefer to have sedation during it.
Although you might wish to only have the tooth that is causing the problem removed during surgery, it often makes sense to remove all the wisdom teeth at once. That way, you reduce the chance of your third molars giving you trouble in the future. You also shorten the recovery time and reduce the cost, versus having multiple surgeries spaced out over time.
When you first get your wisdom teeth out, it might seem as though you made the problem worse, not better. Swelling and bleeding are common side effects. Your surgeon will give you gauze to bite down on and you’re likely to be amazed at how quickly you soak through the gauze.
Treat the area around your wisdom teeth very gently in the days after surgery to avoid dislodging the blood clot that forms and that is a necessary part of healing. Your surgeon will give you a list of foods that are OK to eat afterwards and will recommend avoiding certain foods, such as spicy foods, very hot foods, and crunchy foods.
The good news is that once your wisdom teeth are gone, the risk for recurring pericoronitis drops significantly. It’s rare for a person to have a recurring infection once the wisdom teeth are taken out and the gum flap repaired.
At Gallardo in Miami, Florida, oral surgeon Dr. Juan Arroyo performs wisdom tooth removal procedures and other oral surgeries as needed. Whether you have an infection or not, if your general dentist recommends getting your wisdom teeth out, it’s best to do it sooner, rather than later. Call (305) 447-1447 to schedule your consultation today.