- Dental abscess is a localized collection of pus that forms due to a bacterial infection in the mouth
- Dental abscesses can occur in different parts of the tooth and gum and are mainly of two types: periapical (affects the tooth’s root) and periodontal (affects the gums)
- The condition can cause severe pain and is considered a dental emergency
- If left untreated, a dental abscess can lead to serious complications, including the spread of infection to other parts of the body
- Treatment involves draining the abscess, controlling the infection with antibiotics, and addressing the underlying cause to prevent recurrence
Symptoms of abscessed tooth
A dental abscess can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Severe, throbbing toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck, or ear
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
- Pain when biting or chewing
- Swelling in the face or cheek
- Tender, swollen lymph nodes under the jaw or in the neck
- Foul-tasting or smelling fluid in your mouth when the abscess ruptures
- General discomfort, uneasiness, or feeling ill
- Difficulty opening the mouth or swallowing
When to See a Doctor
It is important to see a dentist or healthcare provider as soon as possible if you experience symptoms of a dental abscess.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have:
- Severe pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medications
- Swelling in the face
- High fever
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing, which might indicate that the infection is spreading
Causes of Dental Abscess
Dental abscesses are usually caused by bacterial infections.
The common causes include:
- Tooth decay: Bacteria can enter the tooth through cavities and reach the pulp, causing infection and the formation of an abscess
- Gum disease: If bacteria accumulate under the gum line, it can cause an infection that affects the supporting structures of the teeth
- Trauma to the tooth: A chipped or broken tooth can allow bacteria to invade the pulp
- Failed dental work: Sometimes, dental procedures like root canals or crowns can fail, allowing bacteria to accumulate
Risk Factors of Dental Abscess
Certain factors increase the risk of developing a dental abscess:
- Poor dental hygiene.
- A high-sugar diet, which can lead to tooth decay
- Having a weakened immune system
- Smoking, as it can make gum disease more severe
- Previous history of dental abscesses or gum disease
- Certain medications that cause dry mouth or affect the immune system
Complications of abscessed tooth
If left untreated, a dental abscess can lead to serious complications, including:
- Dental Cysts: A cyst (fluid-filled cavity) might form at the root of the infected tooth. These cysts can grow and destroy bone.
- Osteomyelitis: This is a bone infection that can occur if the bacteria from the abscess spread to the nearby bone.
- Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis: This is a rare and life-threatening condition where an infection spreads to the brain’s cavernous sinuses, causing blood clot formation.
- Ludwig’s Angina: This is a serious infection that occurs in the floor of the mouth, under the tongue. It is a rapidly spreading infection that can block the airways, making it difficult to breathe.
- Maxillary Sinusitis: If an abscess in the upper jaw goes untreated, the infection can spread to the sinuses, causing inflammation and infection.
- Loss of tooth: In severe cases, the tooth may need to be extracted.
- Sepsis: A life-threatening condition where the infection spreads throughout the body.
Prevention of Dental Abscess
Preventing dental abscesses involves maintaining good oral hygiene and making healthy lifestyle choices:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily to remove plaque between teeth
- Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings
- Avoid tobacco products
- Limit sugary foods and drinks
- Wear a mouthguard if you play sports to prevent tooth trauma
How Does a Tooth Abscess Affect My Oral and Overall Health?
A tooth abscess can significantly affect both oral and overall health. In the oral cavity, it can lead to pain, swelling, tooth sensitivity, and bad breath. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other teeth, the gums, jaw bone, and even the soft tissues of the face. Beyond the oral cavity, bacteria from the abscess can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. This can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening infection, or other systemic infections affecting the heart, lungs, and brain.
Who Gets Abscessed Teeth?
Anyone can get an abscessed tooth. However, individuals with poor dental hygiene, a high sugar diet, a history of dental issues, or a compromised immune system are at a higher risk. Additionally, habits like tobacco use, teeth grinding, or using teeth to open packaging can also increase the risk of developing a tooth abscess.
How Is an Abscessed Tooth Diagnosed?
An abscessed tooth is diagnosed by a dentist through a combination of clinical examination and dental imaging. The dentist will ask about symptoms, examine the mouth, and may tap on the tooth to assess pain levels. Dental X-rays or other imaging methods can be used to see the extent of the infection and check the surrounding bone.
How Soon After Tooth Abscess Treatment Will I Feel Better?
Relief from pain and discomfort usually begins shortly after treatment starts. Typically, within a few days of beginning treatment, whether it be drainage of the abscess or starting antibiotics, the symptoms should begin to alleviate. However, it is important to complete the full course of any prescribed medications and follow all dental instructions.
Can a Tooth Abscess Go Away By Itself?
No, a tooth abscess will not go away on its own. Professional treatment is necessary to properly address the infection. Without treatment, the infection can worsen and lead to severe complications.
How Long Can a Dental Abscess Go Untreated?
It is imperative not to leave a dental abscess untreated. The length of time an abscess can go untreated varies from person to person, but delaying treatment can lead to the spread of infection and severe complications, some of which can be life-threatening.
When Should I See a Dentist?
You should see a dentist as soon as you suspect you may have a dental abscess. Symptoms such as throbbing tooth pain, swelling, sensitivity to hot or cold, and foul taste in the mouth are common signs of an abscess.
When Should I Go to the ER?
You should go to the emergency room if you experience symptoms such as high fever, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or severe swelling of the face or cheek, as these may be signs of a severe infection or that the abscess has spread.
What Questions Should I Ask My Dentist?
When seeing a dentist for a dental abscess, consider asking the following questions:
- What is the extent of the infection?
- What treatment options are available?
- Will I need antibiotics?
- How can I manage pain and swelling at home?
- What steps should I take to prevent future abscesses?
- Are there any risks or potential complications I should be aware of?
- How can I improve my oral hygiene to prevent future dental problems?
A dental abscess is a serious condition that requires prompt attention and care. Understanding the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and potential complications can help in seeking timely treatment. Regular dental care and good oral hygiene practices are crucial in preventing dental abscesses and maintaining overall oral health.
This article is complete and was published on June 19, 2023, and last updated on August 25, 2023.