One potentially painful complication that can affect dental patients is known as an abscess. Though this is a common problem, it can be prevented and treated.
You have probably heard of abscesses, but what do you really know about them? Find out more about the causes, symptoms and treatment options for tooth abscesses.
What is an Abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of pus which can develop in different places on the body, including the inside of your mouth. Abscesses can form in the gums or around the teeth. There are two different types that affect teeth:
- Periodontal abscess – It develops in the supporting bone tissue structures of the tooth.
- Periapical abscess – It develops in the soft pulp of the tooth.
The two types of tooth abscesses present differently in terms of severity and location of symptoms.
The underlying cause of all abscesses is bacteria. The abscess itself is an outward sign of an infection that your body is fighting.
The cause of a periapical abscess is bacteria which seeps into the soft pulp of the tooth. There is a domino effect that leads up to a periapical abscess. First, decay, caries and cavities form holes in the tooth over time. Next, bacteria enters tiny holes in the enamel of the tooth. Bacteria then begins to break down the softer dentine layer of the tooth until it reaches the inner pulp. If the infection is allowed to progress, bacteria can eventually affect the bone surrounding and supporting the tooth. This is the point at which a periapical abscess is formed.
This type of abscess is caused by periodontitis an infection of the gums which develops from bacteria present in plaque. If bacteria is allowed to enter and build up these pockets, a periodontal abscess can form. Invasive dental procedures, gum damage and undiagnosed periodontitis can lead to this complication.
Here are the most common symptoms associated with a tooth abscess. Look out for the following:
- sensitivity to temperature,
- pain around the affected area,
- jaw pain,
- swelling and redness in the tissues around your teeth,
- a bad taste,
- problems opening the mouth or swallowing,
- pain while chewing,
- a loose tooth,
- pus discharge,
- a general sick feeling,
- swollen lymph nodes.
You must get medical attention for this condition. It cannot be treated with home remedies and won’t clear up without assistance. Your dentist will develop a treatment plan that fits your particular situation and the severity of the tooth abscess. If you can’t get in to see a dentist right away, refer to your general practitioner.
The first step to treating either a periapical abscess or a periodontal abscess is to drain the pus. The dentist will use either a local anesthetic or sedation, then carefully drain and flush the area thoroughly.
To get rid of the infection that is causing the tooth abscess, you may be prescribed a round of antibiotics. This will help reduce the swelling after the abscess has been drained. The medication will help your body fight off the infection and block it from spreading to other teeth and oral tissues.
If there is a risk of losing the tooth, the dentist will likely recommend root canal treatment. This requires removing the infected tissue inside the tooth, cleaning it and filling it to protect it from subsequent infection. The dentist then places a crown over the treated tooth to protect and strengthen it.
In particular, periapical abscesses may require oral surgery to treat the issue. The goal of the surgery is to remove all of the diseased tissue. The gum tissue can be reshaped to remove the periodontal pocket. Then, the tooth will be smoothed out below the gum line to prevent further infection in the future.
This is generally the last course of action. If the diseased tissue can’t be successfully removed during the oral surgery or if the abscess reoccurs, the dentist may determine that the tooth should be extracted.
Before and after seeing your dentist, you can do some simple things to help alleviate discomfort. You can gently gargle or rinse with a warm salt water solution. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help you feel more comfortable.
How to Prevent an Abscess
The key to prevention is always good oral hygiene. This includes:
- Visiting the dentist at least twice annually for a checkup and cleaning.
- Brushing your teeth at least twice daily for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.
- Flossing every day.
- Not waiting to seek treatment for dental problems.
- Sticking to a healthy diet and limiting sugary foods and drinks.
Talk to Your Dentist Right Away
Whenever you are experiencing a lot of pain or have an urgent dental problem, contact your dentist as soon as possible. Seek treatment right away to prevent that the problem doesn’t get worse.