Pericoronitis is redness, pain, and swelling (inflammation) of the gum that surrounds a tooth that has not come all the way through the gum (partially erupted or impacted). It occurs when food particles and bacteria get trapped between the gum and the tooth and cause an infection.

Pericoronitis usually affects the bottom wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth are also called third molars. These are the last teeth to erupt, usually when people are 17–21 years old. Pericoronitis is most common in people in their 20s.

Pericoronitis may start suddenly (acute) and can cause pain and swelling. The infection can also spread to the soft tissues around the tooth and lower jaw.

The bacteria that normally live in your mouth (anaerobic bacteria) are the usual cause of pericoronitis.

The main risk factor for pericoronitis is a wisdom tooth that is coming in slowly or sideways. Other risk factors include:

  • Poor dental care (oral hygiene).
  • An upper molar that irritates the lower molar when chewing (occlusal trauma).
  • Gum disease (gingivitis).
  • Lowered resistance to infection. Illness and pregnancy are among possible causes of this.

Signs and symptoms of acute pericoronitis include:

  • Pain.
  • Redness and swelling of the gum.
  • Swelling of the jaw.
  • Bad breath.
  • Bad taste in the mouth.
  • Fever.
  • Stiff and painful jaw movement (trismus).

Your dentist can usually diagnose pericoronitis by your symptoms. You will also have a dental exam including X-rays.

Treatment of acute pericoronitis may include:

  • Injecting numbing medicine and germ-killing solution into the infected area, then opening the gum area over the tooth to flush out pus, bacteria, and trapped food particles (debris).
  • Grinding down an upper tooth that is causing occlusal trauma.
  • Prescribing oral antibiotic medicine.

If you have pericoronitis that keeps coming back, you may need to have the affected wisdom tooth removed (extracted).

  • Take medicines only as directed by your dentist.
  • If you were prescribed an antibiotic medicine, finish it all even if you start to feel better.
  • Eat soft foods until pain and swelling have gone away.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water every few hours, or use a mouthwash that is recommended by your dentist.
  • Practice good oral hygiene by flossing and brushing frequently.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as directed by your dentist. This is important.
  • You have pain or swelling in your gum or jaw.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a constant bad taste in your mouth or bad breath.

You have swelling in your mouth or jaw that makes it hard to swallow or breathe.

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