Your wisdom teeth (third molars) usually start to erupt (enter your mouth) during the late teen years. Sometimes, there's not enough room for them. They may come into your mouth partially or not at all. Partial eruption of a wisdom tooth can create a flap of gum tissue next to the tooth. The flap can trap bits of food and debris. It can turn into a hotbed for bacteria. It's called pericoronitis if the tissue around the tooth becomes inflamed. Pericoronitis also can occur around a wisdom tooth that is still completely under the gums.
The prognosis for pericoronitis is usually very good. With timely care and treatment, pericoronitis can properly be managed or eliminated.
Rarely, the infection can spread from the mouth into the head and neck and cause a serious condition called "Ludwig's angina." This can be a life-threatening condition where the airway could be blocked. Also, spread of the infection to the bloodstream (sepsis) can be life-threatening.
Sometimes, mild symptoms of pericoronitis can be treated at home. Thorough and gentle brushing of the area with a small-headed toothbrush may help to break up the plaque or food that is trapped. Oral water irrigators can be effective in clearing out the debris trapped under the operculum as well. Rinsing with warm salt water can help to soothe the area. Additionally, diluted hydrogen peroxide can be used as a rinse or irrigating solution to help reduce the bacteria in the area.
For severe pericoronitis where swelling and fever are present, home treatments are not advised and proper care should be sought with the appropriate health care professional.
Read more articles on Perocoronitis Diagnosis and Prognosis.