Pericoronitis

  • Medical Author:
    Donna S. Bautista, DDS

    Dr. Donna S. Bautista, DDS, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor of arts in biochemistry and cell biology. During her time at UC San Diego, she was involved in basic research including studying processes related to DNA transcription in the field of molecular biology. Upon graduation, she went on to attend dental school at the University of California, San Francisco. In addition to her formal dental training, she provided dental care for underserved communities in the Bay Area through clinics and health fairs. She also worked toward mentoring high school students interested in the field of dentistry.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Pericoronitis and Wisdom Teeth

Do all wisdom teeth need to be extracted?

A soft-tissue growth over a partially erupted wisdom tooth is referred to as an operculum. If bacteria become trapped under the operculum, an infection called pericoronitis can develop.

Pericoronitis is one of the most common indications for emergency extraction of a wisdom tooth and typically happens when there isn't enough room for all of the teeth in the lower jaw.

What is pericoronitis?

Pericoronitis is inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding the crown portion of a tooth. Pericoronitis usually affects the lower third molar (wisdom) tooth where gum tissue overlaps the chewing surface of the tooth. Pericoronitis can be either chronic or acute. Chronic pericoronitis is a mild persistent inflammation of the area. Acute pericoronitis is when the symptoms intensify to fever, swelling, and pain, which indicate a spreading infection.

Pericoronitis is differentiated from gum disease (or periodontitis) in that it occurs specifically around a partially erupting tooth. The cause of this condition is similar to the formation of a gum abscess in periodontitis by the entrapment of debris under the gum tissue.

What causes pericoronitis?

The primary cause for pericoronitis is accumulation of bacteria. Usually, the tooth is only partially exposed (erupted) and forms excess gum tissue that overlaps the tooth. Bacteria and food debris gets trapped in the space between the tooth and the overlapping gum. This overlapping gum is called an "operculum." Active infection is associated with an abscess that contains pus, which has the ability to spread if left unattended.

What are risk factors for pericoronitis?

Most commonly, pericoronitis affects young adults in their mid-20s who are experiencing poorly erupting wisdom teeth. Risk factors for pericoronitis include the presence of excess gum tissue (operculum) overlying the wisdom tooth and difficult access to the wisdom teeth for cleaning.

What are pericoronitis symptoms and signs?

Signs and symptoms of pericoronitis can range from mild to severe and include pain, swelling of the gums, tenderness, redness of gum tissue, bad breath, bad taste from pus, difficulty opening the jaw, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes, fever, loss of appetite, and feeling unwell.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2015
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