There are few things more unpleasant than a tooth abscess. It can be smelly, gross and extremely painful. But our concerns go way beyond the “ick factor.” A serious oral infection can cause severe health problems if left untreated. That’s why treating tooth decay promptly and seeing your dentist if you have an infection are so important.
What Is A Tooth Abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection. Pus is an accumulation of white blood cells, tissue and bacteria. It’s usually whitish, yellow or brown.
A periapical abscess is the most common type of tooth abscess. It occurs at the bottom of the tooth root and is often the result of an untreated cavity that exposes the tissue inside the tooth to bacteria.
A periodontal abscess (or gum abscess) happens when an infection occurs between the gum and tooth root. It’s often related to gum disease, which causes pockets that can trap food particles and cause infection.
What Causes a Tooth Abscess?
The primary causes of periapical abscesses are the following:
- An untreated cavity spreads from the tooth surface to the root.
- Previous dental work begins to break down, leaving the soft tissue exposed to bacteria.
- An injury causes a tooth to crack, exposing the tooth pulp to infection.
- Periodontal abscesses are generally caused by infections related to gum disease.
Is A Tooth Abscess Serious? What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of a tooth abscess include the following:
- Constant throbbing pain that can spread to the jaw.
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
- Tooth pain that gets worse when you chew.
- Bad breath.
- Swelling in your face, cheek or neck.
- Fever if infection persists.
- If the abscess ruptures, you’ll notice a rush of bad-tasting fluid in your mouth.
A tooth abscess is a serious concern and requires immediate dental care. If the infection spreads to the airway or elsewhere in the body, it can be life-threatening. In 2007, the issue attracted nationwide attention when 12-year-old Deamonte Driver died when an infection from an untreated tooth abscess spread to his brain. While death from oral infections remains rare, Deamonte’s death was a wake-up call for American healthcare providers and a warning about the importance of preventive dental care.
Do I Need to See A Dentist or Will My Abscess Go Away on Its Own?
Because of the dangers of infection, you need to see your dentist immediately for a tooth abscess. We can often prevent severe consequences with a relatively inexpensive course of antibiotics. Your dentist will prescribe oral antibiotics and drain the pus, then develop a treatment plan to resolve the issue. If you have a fever and swelling and can’t see your dentist, go to the emergency room.
What Can I Do Before I See My Dentist?
While waiting to see your dentist, you can take the following steps:
- Manage pain with Ibuprofen or another over-the-counter NSAID medication.
- Eat soft foods, and avoid extremely hot and cold food and drink.
- Rinse with warm salt water to ease pain and clean the area.
What Are Treatment Options for a Tooth Abscess?
Your dentist’s first step will be an oral antibiotic to fight the infection. They will drain the pus and remove infected tissue. Your dentist may recommend a root canal treatment (removing the infected pulp tissue, disinfecting the area and filling and sealing the site). In some cases, your dentist may need to extract the tooth. For a periodontal abscess, your dentist will develop a plan to address your gum disease after addressing the infection.
How Can I Prevent a Tooth Abscess?
Establishing a solid preventive care routine is the best way to prevent abscesses and other urgent dental issues. Seeing your family dentist every six months helps you catch problems early and prevent them from becoming major medical events. If you have a cavity, get it treated right away. Don’t let dental issues linger, and don’t avoid the dentist because of embarrassment or financial concerns. In most cases, the longer you wait, the more expensive your dental issue is to treat. So seeing a dentist early makes sense for your health and your wallet. At Hall Family Dentistry, we place a heavy emphasis on preventive care. But we also offer a judgment-free zone for patients who may have delayed care and need urgent treatment. We’ll resolve the dental emergency and then create a plan to set you up for long-term oral health.