What Is a Tooth Abscess? - Smile Dental Center

woman in pain from tooth abscessIf you’re feeling pain in your teeth or gums and notice pus, you could have a tooth abscess. This oral infection can affect different areas of the tooth, including the roots and gums.

When seeking dental care for your mouth pain, here’s what you should know.

What Is a Tooth Abscess?

Tooth abscesses are the result of a bacterial infection or an injury. They typically occur from:

  • A dental cavity that has progressed without treatment
  • A cracked tooth
  • Periodontal disease

Each tooth has a hard exterior, but the inside has pulp containing nerves and blood vessels. Abscesses often form when bacteria-fueled decay progresses to this area and causes an infection, due to the decay killing or damaging the pulp. The infection can spread, passing through bone to affect multiple teeth.

Inside a tooth, the infection and subsequent abscess won’t go away without treatment. It will continue to spread to your jaw, blood vessels, neck and head, potentially causing life-threatening complications.

Typically characterized by infection, irritation and discharge, tooth abscesses fall into one of three types:

  • Periodontal Abscess: This affects the bone next to the tooth and appears to emerge from the gums. A periodontal abscess may be the result gum disease or an oral injury.
  • Periapical Abscess: This abscess forms at the tip of the tooth’s root, generally from an untreated cavity or dental injury that causes bacteria to enter the pulp.
  • Gingival Abscess: A foreign particle from eating, biting into something or brushing gets embedded in your gums, leading to irritation, inflammation and infection.

Risk Factors for a Tooth Abscess

Individuals have a greater risk for developing a tooth abscess if they:

  • Are negligent with tooth and gum care
  • Consume a diet high in sugar
  • Experience dry mouth
  • Have a weaker or more vulnerable immune system

Ignoring an abscess can result in a rupture or an infection that spreads through the jaw to your head, sinus cavity and neck. Sepsis can also occur, which increases your risk of a life-threatening infection and may spread throughout the body.

Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess

Especially if the abscess is farther back in your mouth, you might not be able to spot it right away. You could have an abscess if you notice the following symptoms:

  • A sharp or throbbing sensation in one tooth
  • Pain in response to hot or cold temperatures, chewing or biting
  • Fever
  • Swelling in your cheek or neck
  • Difficulties breathing or swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your jaw or neck
  • Bad breath that never goes away
  • Pus or tasting a salty liquid in your mouth
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Bumps on your gums

If swelling is accompanied by a fever, get immediate medical attention at your dental office or the emergency room, as this indicates the infection has started to spread.

Treatment for a Tooth Abscess

Your dentist will diagnose the abscess by tapping or placing pressure on the tooth to gauge your pain response. X-rays or other imaging tests may be conducted to identify the abscess and determine if the infection has spread.

Treatment will entail a combination of:

  • Draining the abscess of pus
  • A root canal to preserve the remaining tooth structure and remove the infected pulp
  • Placing a crown onto the remnants of the tooth
  • Extracting or the tooth, especially if it’s not salvageable or the infection is spreading
  • Antibiotics, particularly if the infection has spread to multiple teeth or your jaw
  • Removing any foreign debris

Preventing a Tooth Abscess

To decrease your risk for a tooth abscess:

  • Brush for two minutes at least twice per day and floss at least once
  • Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, as this increases cavity risks
  • Use toothpaste containing fluoride
  • Use an antiseptic or antibacterial mouthwash containing fluoride
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months
  • Schedule routine dental checkups and cleanings

Do you have a chipped, damaged or potentially infected tooth? Contact our Shelton office to schedule an appointment.