Ouch…and yuck! That’s what we often hear when a patient is experiencing a tooth abscess. No one likes pus–or pain–and an abscess generally means both. If you have an abscess and don’t get it treated, it can cause a severe infection. An abscess often starts as a simple cavity that’s left untreated. It’s just one reason routine oral health care and tackling tooth decay early are vital.
What Is a Tooth Abscess?
When a bacterial infection creates a pocket of pus, we call it an abscess. Pus is an icky, often smelly liquid made up of bacteria, white blood cells, and tissue. It’s usually white, brown or yellow. There are two types of tooth abscesses:
- A periapical abscess happens in your tooth pulp (the inner layer of soft tissue). It usually results from untreated tooth decay, allowing bacteria to attack soft tissue inside the tooth.
- A periodontal abscess occurs between the tooth root and gums. Periodontal abscesses happen when gum disease causes pockets of infection in your gums. It often looks like a pimple or small red ball on your gums.
What Causes Tooth Abscesses?
Periodontal abscesses happen when bacteria enter the space between your teeth and gums. Gum disease is the primary cause.
Abscesses in the tooth pulp have several causes:
- Untreated tooth decay can spread from the surface to the pulp.
- An injury can cause your tooth to crack and expose the pulp to infection.
- Past dental work, including fillings and crowns, may break down, allowing bacteria to attack the soft tissue.
- Teeth grinding can wear down your enamel, making the soft tissue more vulnerable to infection.
- Lifestyle factors, including poor oral hygiene and a high-sugar diet, can increase your risk for periodontal and periapical abscesses.
- What Are the Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess?
- Symptoms of an abscess include:
- Toothache or radiating pain in the jaw
- Sensitivity to hot and cold beverages or foods
- Sensitivity to tapping or pressure
- Pimples or sores on the gums
- Inflamed or swollen gums
- Swelling in your jaw
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Foul-smelling discharge or a bad taste in your mouth
- Increased pain and throbbing when you lie down
- Sleep disruptions
If your abscess goes untreated, you may develop a fever. This may mean your oral infection has spread to other areas of your body. You may also be at risk of life-threatening sepsis if you don’t address the problem. While death from oral infections is rare, there have been high-profile cases of Americans dying from untreated tooth abscesses, underscoring the importance of preventive dental care.
How Can I Prevent a Tooth Abscess?
Good oral hygiene and regular dental care are the two most important factors. Building a solid and trusting relationship with your family dentist can help prevent minor problems like a cavity from turning dangerous. Brush and floss daily, and see your dentist twice a year for routine checkups. Avoid overdoing sweets and sugary drinks, and don’t use tobacco products.
How Can My Dentist Treat an Abscess?
Your dentist’s first step is often to make an incision to drain the pus and flush it with a saline solution. Depending on the severity of the infection, she may also need to:
- Do a root canal to remove the infected pulp and drain the abscess. After clearing the infected pulp, your dentist disinfects the area, fills and seals the root canal, and covers your tooth with a crown.
- If your dentist can’t save the tooth, she may need to extract the tooth to drain the abscess.
- Your dentist will usually recommend oral antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading.
If you are experiencing oral pain and discomfort or other symptoms of an abscess, make an appointment with your family dentist. Remember, a tooth abscess will not go away on its own. The longer you wait to see your dentist, the greater your chances of a severe infection. At Greenhill Family dental care, we know that an abscess can be unpleasant to live with. But patients often delay care, hoping it will disappear on its own. Don’t wait. Call our office so we can treat your infection and make a long-term plan for healthier teeth and gums.