A toothache is serious business. It’s often merely a symptom of a much larger, and potentially costly, issue. For example, left untreated, minor cavities or chips and breaks in your teeth can eventually develop into dental abscesses, a serious bacterial infection generally resulting in severe, throbbing pain and pus at the site of the infection. If the infection spreads it can easily extend into the gums, cheek, throat, beneath your tongue, or even into your jaw and/or facial bones. The infection progressively worsens until the abscess either erupts on its own or is surgically ruptured and drained.
Other causes vary from poor dental hygiene to neglected oral conditions such as gum disease or as the result of direct trauma to the mouth. It’s also not uncommon for an abscess to develop as part of an underlying medical condition such as an autoimmune disorder or a generally weakened immune system usually due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
While the only way to diagnose and correct a dental abscess is to see your dentist, we have some tips for what symptoms to look for before they become severe complications and how an abscess is ultimately treated.
If you have throbbing or shooting pain, especially if it’s severe, chances are good you have, or are on your way to, an abscess. Other symptoms include swelling of the gums or glands, redness of the mouth and/or face, pain while chewing, sensitivity to hot and cold, bad breath, drainage and/or difficulty swallowing.
As the infection worsens, it’s not uncommon for a patient to suffer from complications such as nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and diarrhea.
Sometimes, an abscess can progress to dangerous levels, causing breathing difficulties as swelling begins to obstruct airways.
While waiting for your dental appointment, pain from an abscess may be temporarily alleviated with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or motrin.
However, even if you notice that the pain subsides, the infection associated with a dental abscess will not get better on its own. It must be treated by a dentist to properly drain the pus via root canal. Any subsequent diseased tissue or teeth may also need to be removed or treated before the infected area will fully heal.
Should the abscess ruptures on its own, a warm salt water rinse can keep the infection stable and help encourage the wound to drain, but should always be seen by a professional.