Perhaps you’ve heard the term abscess tooth. An abscess is a pocket of puss that occurs around a tooth or in the gums that is caused by bacteria. Abscess can develop relatively quickly- within just a few days, and if the infection isn’t treated continues to worsen.
There are two types of abscess that form: periodontal (gum) abscess which is an infection between the tooth and gum, and periapical (tooth) abscess which is an infection inside the tooth-first stemming from the root of the tooth and spreading through the bone. Often a periodontal abscess occurs due to infection that is already present in the gums, or due to poor cleaning of the space between the teeth and gums. A periapical abscess occurs when the root of a tooth is dying or dead, and spreads to the bone surrounding the area.
What does an abscess feel like?
Most people feel pain from an abscess, but it is possible to not notice pain for months or even years. An abscess is typically swollen, irritated and filled with pus. Many people will likely feel pressure from the pus and irritation from the infection. The pain may feel throbbing. Other symptoms may include a fever, swollen neck glands, sensitivity to heat or cold, pain, bad taste in the mouth, bad breath, or pain. Don’t leave an abscess without treatment, see a dentist if you feel one or more of these symptoms.
An infection will not go away on its own, and requires treatment from a dentist. An abscess that is left untreated will sometimes create a hollow tunnel called a fistula that stems from the abscess through the bone or skin, allowing the pus to drain. A fistula is visible inside the mouth, and looks like a pimple that is filled with pus. Even if the pus from a fistula drains releasing pressure, the infection still requires treatment or it will not resolve on its own.
In even more severe cases a cyst forms in the jaw bone and must be removed either with a tooth extraction or surgically. In even worse cases an infection that causes an abscess may spread and cause life-threatening complications like tooth loss, sepsis (blood infection), spread of infection to soft tissue (facial cellulitis, Ludwig’s angina), spread of infection to the jaw bone, and spread of infection to other areas of the body resulting in fever, brain abscess, endocarditis (infection in the heart), pneumonia, or other complications. Some of the complications of an abscess tooth can be life-threatening.
Treatment for an abscess tooth
While taking an over-the-counter pain reliever may help ease pain temporarily, it is important to visit your dentist as soon as possible to receive proper care for your infection. Your dentist will treat the infection with antibiotics, and may recommend other topical or over-the-counter methods for alleviating pain. Do NOT attempt any at-home remedies without consulting with your dentist, as you risk worsening the infection.
Abscesses often need to be drained. There are several methods that a dentist may choose to drain an abscess depending on the severity of the infection and the condition of the tooth. A dentist may make an incision in the gums to drain puss from the abscess. In some cases, a tooth can be saved through a root canal to remove dead and infected tissue. Sometimes, an affected tooth will need to be removed (tooth extraction) and the area will be treated for infection. Root surgery may also be needed to remove infected tissue from the tooth root after the infection has been reduced. After a root canal or tooth extraction, you may need a crown or bridge to restore the functionality of a tooth.
Prevent an abscess with good dental care. Brushing and flossing daily helps disrupt buildup of plaque and tartar on the surface of the teeth and between the gums. Moreover, cleaning between the teeth with floss helps remove particles that can become lodged and collect bacteria, causing infection. Furthermore, taking action when a tooth experiences trauma like a crack, chip or becomes dislodged, don’t delay treatment. This sort of trauma can cause infection in a tooth that quickly becomes an abscess.
Twice-annual dental exams and cleanings are a good way to make sure that you are not missing a dental health issue that you may not see or feel. You dentist can signal that there is an oral health condition that needs attention, and can also help spot potential conditions throughout the body. Jefferson Dental offers convenient walk-in emergency dental care with evening and Saturday dentist appointments at dental offices near you. Jefferson Dental accepts Medicaid, CHIP and most private dental insurance plans. Click to book!