Wisdom teeth are your third molars, the furthest ones in your mouth. They got their name because they typically appear when you’re between the ages of 17 and 21 when you’re more mature and have more wisdom. Have you ever wondered why gums swell and become sore around them? Let our dentists give you information on how to treat swollen gums near wisdom tooth. It’s a common dental issue, but not many people know the answer.
If your wisdom teeth emerge correctly, then they’ll help you chew and shouldn’t cause any problems. If there isn’t enough room for them to come out in the proper position, your dentist will refer to them as impacted. Gum swelling around wisdom teeth is caused by bacteria that accumulate over time. As bacteria begin to spread into the gums, they cause inflammation. This leads to a buildup of fluid which causes the gums around the wisdom tooth to swell.
Why do my gums swell?
Here are the common causes of gum swelling:
- Poor dental hygiene
- Food particles trapped between the teeth and gum line
- Infection or abscess of the tooth
- Tooth trauma or injury
- Inadequate cleaning of the wisdom tooth area
- Allergic reaction to a certain type of dental materials
- Stress, poor diet, and smoking can also cause gum problems around the wisdom tooth
Why are the gums around my wisdom teeth swelling?
When your wisdom teeth start to break through your gums, it’s normal to have some discomfort and swelling of your gums. Once your wisdom teeth come through your gums, there could be complications that result in more swelling, including if they:
- emerge only partially, allowing bacteria into the gums and jaw
- aren’t positioned correctly, allowing food to become stuck and promoting the growth of cavity-causing bacteria
- allow for the formation of a cyst that can damage teeth and the bone that holds your teeth
A vitamin deficiency or gingivitis can also cause swollen gums, but typically that swelling wouldn’t be isolated to your wisdom teeth.
Pericoronitis occurs when the wisdom teeth do not have enough room to erupt through the gums. As a result, they may only partially come through the gum, which may lead to inflammation and infection of the soft tissue around the wisdom tooth. If wisdom teeth only partially erupt, gum flaps may develop. These flaps are areas where food can become trapped, and bacteria can build up, causing infection.
Symptoms of Pericoronitis
The symptoms can vary between individuals depending on the severity of the infection.
Acute symptoms usually last 3 to 4 days and can include the following:
- severe pain that can cause loss of sleep
- swelling on the affected side of the face
- discharge of pus
- pain when swallowing
- swollen lymph nodes under the chin
Meanwhile, chronic symptoms include:
- dull pain
- mild discomfort
- bad taste in the mouth
- swollen gum in the affected area
Chronic symptoms often only last 1 to 2 days but keep recurring over months.
Diagnosing gum swelling
Dentists diagnose pericoronitis during a clinical evaluation. The dentist will diagnose the condition by examining the wisdom teeth and checking for signs and the appearance of pericoronitis.
The dentist will look to see if the gums are inflamed, red, swollen, or draining pus. They will also look to see if there is a gum flap in the affected area.
The dentist might also take an X-ray to look at the alignment of the wisdom teeth and to rule out other possible causes for the pain, such as dental decay.
If a doctor diagnoses pericoronitis, they will refer the individual to a dentist for further treatment.
What are the treatment options?
Once the dentist has diagnosed pericoronitis, they will design a treatment plan according to the specific needs of the individual.
The condition can be difficult to treat because if there is a gum flap, then the problem will not go away completely until the tooth fully erupts or the tooth or tissue is removed.
If the person has symptoms that are localised to the area around the tooth, then the dentist may try the following treatment options:
- thoroughly cleaning the area
- removing any food debris
- draining any pus
If there is an infection, then the dentist will prescribe antibiotics, and an individual can take other medication to manage the pain and reduce swelling. A person should consult their dentist before using any over-the-counter medications or mouth rinses.
The dentist may often recommend removing the tooth, especially if it is a recurring problem.
It is vitally important that symptoms of pericoronitis are treated swiftly to keep the infection from spreading and to lessen the risks of complications.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of pericoronitis should contact their dentist as soon as possible. Those who realise their wisdom teeth are coming through but have no symptoms of pericoronitis should still tell their dentist so that they can monitor the progress.
Some home remedies can help alleviate and treat symptoms of minor cases of pericoronitis.
A warm saltwater rinse can help clean the affected area carefully with a toothbrush to remove plaque and food debris. However, if a person sees no improvement after five days, then they should consult a dentist.
It is not recommended to use home remedies if a person is experiencing severe symptoms.
Complications associated with pericoronitis can occur. Problems are more likely to happen if the symptoms are not treated promptly.
Sometimes, the infection can spread from the affected area, which can lead to swelling and pain in other parts of the head and neck. This may warrant emergency tooth extraction.
Trismus, where a person finds it difficult to open their mouth or bite down, can also be a complication.
In rare cases, complications of pericoronitis can even be life-threatening. Untreated pericoronitis can lead to Ludwig’s angina, which is an infection that spreads under the jaw and tongue. This condition can also cause other deep head, neck, or throat infections.
There is also the possibility that the infection can spread into the bloodstream, in a condition known as sepsis, which can also be life-threatening.
How can I reduce wisdom teeth swelling?
If your swelling is caused or worsened by a piece of food stuck in the area, rinse your mouth thoroughly. Your dentist might recommend warm salt water or an antiseptic oral rinse. Once the food’s washed away, your swelling should reduce on its own.
Other ways to deal with wisdom teeth swelling include:
- apply an ice pack or cold compress directly to the swollen area or to your face next to the swelling
- suck on ice chips, keeping them on or near the swollen area
- take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- avoid things that can irritate your gums, such as alcohol and tobacco
Typically, pericoronitis causes no long-term effects. If the wisdom tooth fully erupts or is removed, then pericoronitis will not reoccur in that area. If a tooth is removed, then a person can usually expect to make a full recovery after about two weeks.
Following all aftercare instructions is essential. A person should contact their dentist or oral surgeon if they experience intense or throbbing pain, fever, or bleeding. The most important thing about treating pericoronitis is ensuring that individuals receive the right treatment to correct this painful condition as soon as possible.