If your third molars have yet to fully erupt through your gumline or have only partly come in, a growth of tissue that partially covers your tooth may form. Known as an operculum, this flap of tissue can become inflamed and lead to infection and even tooth decay. If inflammation occurs, your dentist may treat it by performing an operculectomy, or a procedure to remove your operculum, defines the American Dental Association (ADA).
Operculum and Pericoronitis
If your operculum becomes painful and swollen, a condition known as pericoronitis, your dentist may decide to wait until your tooth fully erupts, extract the tooth or remove the tissue.
An operculum typically develops on your lower third molars, or wisdom teeth, and it's more common for those in their late teens or early adulthood to have the condition since third molars usually erupt at this age. The overgrowth can make the area and your teeth difficult to clean. Food particles can become trapped and cause a buildup of bacteria that may lead to an infection in the operculum. According to the International Journal of Dental and Medical Research (IJDMR), symptoms of pericoronitis include:
- Inflammation in the area
- Swelling in your cheek and jaw
- Difficulty chewing
- Halitosis (or bad breath)
- Bad taste in your mouth
- Pus discharge from under the gum
Pericoronitis can be treated with antibiotics. Additionally, a commitment to daily flossing, brushing and rinsing with products like Colgate Total Mouthwash for Gum Health, which fights plaque between teeth and along the gumline, can help keep the condition from returning. If the problem becomes chronic, you may be referred to an oral surgeon for an operculectomy.
The Operculectomy Procedure
The first course of action is to treat the infection. Your dentist may first treat it with antibiotics or refer you to an oral surgeon for a complete or partial tooth extraction, explains IJOHMR. However, wisdom teeth don't always need to be removed. If the tooth can erupt properly, your oral surgeon may decide it's best to first move forward with an operculectomy, reports the IJDMR.
These days, there are several ways an oral surgeon can perform an operculectomy and all include a local anesthetic. Your oral surgeon may use either a surgical scalpel to remove the growth of tissue or remove it via electrosurgery or lasers, says IJDMR. Electrosurgery involves the use of electric current. The current produces heat that cuts the tissue, as reported by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Likewise, a laser treatment uses photo-thermal serration to remove the flap, according to a study published by the Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry.
Post-surgery you'll need to maintain a long-term commitment to rinsing the area daily, as prescribed by your oral surgeon, and to your overall dental hygiene to keep an infection from returning. If your teen has undergone the procedure, a reminder that daily flossing, an appropriate toothbrush and avoiding snacking after brushing are all important ways to ensure a healthy smile for years to come.