If you had your wisdom teeth begin to grow in but did not have enough room to erupt, you likely experienced a dental operculum at this time. An operculum is the gum tissue that overhangs a tooth during the eruption. The most common teeth that pose a risk for operculums are wisdom teeth (or third molars) because they often don’t have enough space to erupt fully. Dental operculums are also common when other molars erupt in childhood but typically resolve on their own as the molars push through the gums. Although sometimes an operculum can resolve on its own, some require intervention to prevent infection.
You may notice that the gums behind your last molars appear red, inflamed and swollen. They may be sore and bleed easier. If the gum tissue becomes infected, it can cause severe pain, difficulty chewing/ swallowing and even difficulty opening your mouth. If there is an infection, you may also experience a mild fever. It is vital to see your dentist for a dental operculum, especially if you are experiencing signs of an infection.
There isn’t much you can do about how your molars erupt to prevent an operculum. The gum tissue around your teeth must retract away as the teeth erupt, and it doesn’t always happen quickly or at once. The best thing you can do is keep the area clean to prevent infection. This means adequate brushing and flossing, using mouthwash at least once a day and even using an end tuft brush to help dislodge food debris and plaque from the area.
If you notice you are developing an operculum, we ask that you book an appointment with your dentist near you immediately. Your dentist can assess the severity of the operculum and whether treatment is needed. Your dentist will likely provide you with a monojet to help keep the area clean. You can use this device to spray water/salt water or mouthwash underneath the gum tissue to dislodge any food particles. If the gums aren’t retracting back on their own, your dentist may use a laser to help remove the operculum tissue from the biting surface of the tooth. If the operculum is around your wisdom teeth, it may be recommended to have them extracted, especially if they are only partially erupted.
If you have questions about dental operculums, we would be happy to see you for a consult appointment today.