An operculum, by definition, is a structure that “covers” or “closes.” In dentistry, an operculum is any gum tissue that covers or partially covers the biting surface of a tooth. Another name for an operculum is a pericoronal flap.
Typically, it occurs during the eruption of the back molar teeth. Occasionally an operculum won’t resolve on its own, requiring intervention. As the tooth erupts into the mouth further, the operculum will usually resolve, and the tissue will heal away from the biting surface.
Why an Operculum Occurs
If a tooth doesn’t have enough space, it can’t fully push through the gums, leaving excess gum tissue on top. This can most commonly affect the wisdom teeth, as they sometimes don’t have enough space to erupt. Wisdom teeth will push through as far as they can fit, occasionally remaining half erupted. Additionally, an operculum can occur in children when any tooth erupts but usually resolves on its own.
Symptoms of an Infected Operculum
When an operculum develops, it is likely to be prone to infection. It is difficult, if not impossible, to keep an operculum clean. An infection will occur when bacteria get trapped underneath and aren’t removed. Signs and symptoms of an infected operculum include:
- Discomfort or pain when biting down
- Swollen gums/ cheek/ neck
- Discharge or pus from the area
- Bad taste or smell
Treatment of a Dental Operculum
The first step in a treatment plan is always to address the infection. This may require a course of antibiotics or, at minimum, some daily irrigation of the area. Sometimes an operculum will heal on its own, and other times intervention is required.
When an operculum occurs around a wisdom tooth, the wisdom tooth will likely require extraction. This means there is just insufficient space for the wisdom tooth to fit. If the wisdom tooth fits, but there is still some tissue at the back, a laser can be used to remove any excess tissue. Removing the tissue makes the tooth easier to clean, and the tooth can be saved.
If you have any questions or are concerned, you may have a dental operculum. We encourage you to contact our office to book an appointment today.