Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, do not always come into the mouth properly. Sometimes, a tooth comes in part of the way and a flap of gum tissue covers part of the tooth. This happens more often with the lower wisdom teeth than with the upper ones. Bacteria and pieces of food can get trapped under this flap. The gum may swell and become irritated. This is an infection called pericoronitis.

What You Can Do

The symptoms of pericoronitis may include:

  • A bad taste in the mouth (this often happens when there's an infection)
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Pain in the area around your back teeth
  • Swelling of the gums behind your back teeth (you may not be able to bite down without pinching the swollen gums between your teeth)
  • Not being able to open your mouth all the way

Do not use warm compresses on your face. You can swish warm salt water around in your mouth. This may help to reduce the swelling, but it will not solve the problem. Visit a dentist as soon as possible.

What Your Dentist Will Do

The inflammation — that is, the pericoronitis — won't go away until one of three things happens:
  • The flap of tissue is removed
  • The wisdom tooth is removed
  • The wisdom tooth comes into your mouth the rest of the way

Your dentist will rinse under the flap of tissue with water to clean the area. If the area is infected, your dentist most likely will prescribe antibiotics.

Your dentist will tell you how to keep the area clean. This is the best way to keep the problem from coming back. You will have to brush and floss every day, and rinse your mouth several times a day. This will help to prevent bits of food from building up in the area. Even with good oral hygiene, the problem may occur again.

If the condition returns, your dentist probably will send you to an oral surgeon, who may suggest that you remove the flap of gum tissue or the tooth. Removing the flap of tissue may not solve the problem, however. In that case, you will need to have the tooth extracted.

Once the tooth is out, you rarely have the problem again. If the problem is caused by an upper wisdom tooth biting the gum that covers a lower wisdom tooth, the upper one may be removed. The oral surgeon may recommend that you have the upper wisdom tooth removed to prevent it from biting into the lower gum after the lower tooth is extracted.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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