When you’re tooth is persistently in pain and keeps you up in the night, the problem could be more than just a toothache. A dental abscess is an infection that can cause a throbbing pain in your tooth. The infection spreads to the root and the root’s tip and originates from the sensitive core, or the pulp of the tooth.
The pulp houses blood vessels and nerves. Before the abscess forms, the tooth has already lost its ability to combat the infection, causing bacteria to rush into the pulp, multiply and lead to an infection. The infection often spreads from the pulp, leaves from the root’s bottom and enters the bone. An abscess is a pocket of pus containing bacteria, dead white blood cells and tissue debris.
A dental abscess and a gum abscess are completely different in terms of the source of the infection. A dental abscess, also called a periapical abscess, starts from the pulp and leaves from the tooth’s apex at the root’s bottom. A gum abscess or periodontal abscess begins in the gum pocket next to the root. Treatment options depend on the type of abscess you have.
Both types of abscess are very serious dental issues. An acute abscess of the teeth or gums requires emergency dentist treatment. Both types of abscess result from the buildup of bacteria in your mouth. Some factors that can contribute to this include:
- Poor oral hygiene. Not cleaning (brushing and flossing) your teeth, tongue and gums properly and regularly.
- A high-sugar diet. Consuming carbohydrates from sugar and products made of white flour can contribute to tooth decay and abscessed tooth.
Who Gets Dental Abscesses?
Anyone with teeth has a risk of getting an abscessed tooth. One study carried out in England showed that about 11,000 people are treated for dental abscesses every year. In the US, one in eight people seek treatment for it in any two year period.
Dental Abscess Symptoms
A severe and continuous toothache that causes a sharp or throbbing pain is a common symptom of a tooth abscess. Other possible symptoms include:
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Pain while chewing
- Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods
- Swollen upper or lower jaw
- Swelling and redness of the gums
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Swollen neck glands
- A general discomfort or feeling of being sick
- Draining sore on the side of the gum
Toothaches may top if the pup in the root dies from the infection. However, this does not show that your infection has cleared up. Your infection is still active and spreading to destroy tissue. Therefore, see make an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms, even if pain discontinues.
Seek immediate medical help if you have a high fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or above, breathing difficulties, facial swelling and severe pain that doesn’t improve with painkillers, as these indicate that your infection may have spread to other parts of your body.
Dental Abscess Complications
Note that a tooth abscess will not improve without any treatment. If the abscess bursts, you may experience a significant reduction in pain but you still require dental treatment. The infection may spread to the jaw, neck and other areas of your head if the abscess is not drained. There is also a possibility of developing a life-threatening infection called sepsis where the infection spreads throughout the body, if treatment is not sought.
If your immune system is compromised or if you do not get appropriate dental treatment for your tooth abscess, the risk of the infection spreading increases even more.
Dental Abscess Treatment
Treatment will help clear up the infection and hence, solve the root of the problem. For this, the dentist will perform the following:
- Drain the abscess. This is achieved by making a small incision into the abscess and allowing the pus to drain out. The area will then be washed with salt water.
- Root canal treatment. This will help clear the infection and save your tooth. The treatment is performed with a local anaesthetic and involves removing the affected pulp by drilling down into the tooth. The abscess is drained and the tooth pulp chamber and root canals are sealed. Since a tooth is often brittle following a root canal, the dentist may recommend a crown to protect it.
- Extraction. If the dentist is unable to save your tooth, he or she may have to pull the tooth and drain the abscess, thereby eliminating the infection. This is done with a local anaesthetic unless the tooth is dead.
Antibiotics. If the infection is within the abscessed area only, antibiotics may not be prescribed. However, if the infection spreads to nearby teeth, the jaw and other regions, the dentist may prescribe antibiotics to inhibit the infection from spreading. Antibiotics may also be recommended if you have a suppressed immune system.