What is Pericoronitis and How Do I Treat it?

Pericoronitis is a big word for a little, but very annoying, problem. It's what happens when a flap of gums gets caught between your brand new wisdom teeth and it just won't 'heal' away.

Wisdom Teeth and Pericoronitis

If you are growing in your wisdom teeth naturally without pain, infection, or extraction, congratulations! You are one of the lucky few whose wisdom teeth did not come in at too tight an angle, get stuck and infected, or cause some other problem requiring major surgery. Maybe just one wisdom tooth came in healthy or maybe it looks like you're going to get all four third-molars in place before your 30th birthday. You're probably feeling pretty cool, congratulating yourself on having one to four more teeth than the majority of the population. And then it happens.

You bite your gums. Back between your new third molars, a tiny flap of gums got stuck between your teeth. You didn't notice and bit down hard on something tasty. Or maybe you were just closing your mouth, talking, or it happened when you were asleep. But now every time you try to close your mouth, there's that painful little flap of gums. If it doesn't go away after a day or two of careful talking and chewing, you've likely got a common condition known as pericoronitis.

What is Pericoronitis?

Pericoronitis is a condition that is almost exclusive to the few people who grow in healthy wisdom teeth and is most common with people who grow in both top and bottom wisdom teeth on the same side. This is what happens when your gums are almost, but not quite, big enough for your wisdom teeth to come together with a combined chewing surface. It most frequently happens with the gums just above the bottom wisdom tooth that have been pushed up and out of the way as the tooth grows. When the lower wisdom tooth comes in contact with an upper chewing surface (often an upper wisdom tooth), that tiny flap of gums gets pinched, and then it acts like every other pinched bit of gums or cheek tissue.

And dentists aren't trying to scare you with a big complicated name. Broken down, pericoronitis is named exactly the same way most other medical conditions are: in Latin. Peri means "around", Coro means "crown" and Itis, of course, is a medical condition involving swelling. This just means that there is swelling around the crown of your tooth.

Risk of Infection

While most people only experience pain and irritation from pericoronitis, it is also vitally important to acknowledge the risks. If you bite down too hard and taste blood, there is an open wound in your mouth and a high risk of infection. Mouth infections are very dangerous and, if untreated, can be fatal. This is why pericoronitis is considered such a serious condition in dental circles: because a single accident chewing your lunch could lead to a life-threatening infection.

Anyone who has pericoronitis, wounded or just swollen, should use mouthwash daily and work to keep any food particles out of the flap. Use your tongue and toothbrush as best you can to clear out crumbs and lingering food in your mouth after every time you eat and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash regularly to keep the area clean and infection-free. If you have tasted blood, seeing your dentist is not optional.

Temporary or Serious Pericoronitis

If you have not put yourself at risk of infection yet, it's time to assess just how serious your pericoronitis really is. When dealing with this condition, it can be difficult to fully close your teeth or enjoy a meal and after a few days, you may be tempted to switch to smoothies as a lifestyle. Fortunately, the condition is quite treatable and you may even be able to solve the problem at home. Whether or not the at-home solutions work for you will determine if your pericoronitis is a minor temporary issue or a serious concern to take to your dentist.

Temporary pericoronitis can be solved simply by reducing the inflammation in your mouth. If the gums will recede on their own with a little encouragement, count yourself very lucky. If they do not, you may need very mild oral surgery to adapt your mouth to the new wisdom teeth.

Rinse With Hot Salt Water

The best way to test if your pericoronitis is something you can cure at home is with hot salt water. This has been the go-to solution for any injury inside the mouth for decades because it can simultaneously soothe pain and reduce swelling. Rinse with hot salt water several times a day for a few days in a row. You will almost assuredly notice at least some reduction in the pain, size, and swelling of your pericoronitis gum-flap because you are treating the result of constant re-biting. However, the real question is whether or not the hot salt water fully takes care of the problem.

If the salt water reduces the gum flap to a tiny ridge that no longer overlaps your tooth, rejoice! You may need to chew a little more carefully to avoid this happening in the future but you do not need oral surgery. If not, go talk to your dentist about a permanent solution.

What the Dentist Can Do

Your dentist will likely offer you one to three options to choose from when dealing with pericoronitis. Some suggest wisdom tooth extraction to solve the problem, but this is an extreme solution unless you are already having other problems with the wisdom tooth in question. More realistically, they can use a small knife to slice back the offending flap of gums for you. It may grow back, but it will grow back much smaller with minimal likelihood of overlapping again. It is also possible, but less likely, that your dentist will offer to reduce inflammation and see if you can avoid surgery.

Coping with Pericoronitis Before the Dental Solution

Whether you are working on the salt-water reduction method or are waiting on a solution from your dentist, it will be necessary to make it through a few days of constantly biting your gums. Here's how to deal with it without constant pain or risk of infection:

Puff out Your Cheeks to Close

This is a neat trick we've seen young people learn to get the flap of gums out of the way before closing your teeth together. Simply puff out the offending cheek to pull the gums back and then close your teeth. This won't work for everyone, but can save some countless times pulling your cheek back manually.

Use Food as a Buffer When Chewing

The biting problem when chewing is that your teeth come together onto the gums.  However, you can chew without fully closing your teeth. One way to do this without too much hassle to actually choose to chew on the problematic side of your mouth, using a was of food as a squishy buffer. Wierd? Yes. But it can help you get a meal down without too much pain.

Sleep with a Night Guard

Worried about biting your gums in the night when you can't use coping techniques? There's not a lot you can do about the fact that your mouth may open and close during sleep, but you can protect your teeth from closing on the gums. Pick up an over-the-counter night guard for people who grind their teeth at night to help keep your chewing surfaces off of each other.

Suck Ice and Swish Often

Finally, look for ways that work for you to constantly reduce inflammation. Re-biting makes the condition worse while ice and salt water will make it better. It may be a game of tug-of-war but you'll experience less pain overall with constant treatment.

Get More Information About Pericoronitis From Mountain Peak Dentistry

Dealing with pericoronitis can be painful, annoying, and even dangerous but it doesn't have to take over your world. Determine if the problem can be dealt with holistically and, if not, don't be afraid to consult your dentist. That tiny flap of gums could put you in a lot of trouble if it gets infected and, let's face it, you want to be able to close your mouth again at some point in the future.

For more information about this condition or to consult with a dental professional on your personal situation, please contact us today! And remember: use mouthwash every day.  The expert team at Mountain Peak Dentistry can get to the bottom of your Pericoronitis and help you to find relief. Contact us now at (303) 988-7800 to arrange an appointment. 

About Mountain Peak Dentistry
Mountain Peak Dentistry is the dental practice of leading dentist, Dr. Brennan Bonati. We’re proud to be recognized as the most trusted, reliable and compassionate dental practice in Lakewood, CO and the surrounding areas, providing comprehensive, restorative and cosmetic dentistry.

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Dr. Brennan Bonati

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