Our bodies are pretty good at alerting us when something is wrong so we can fix it and feel better. The formation of an abscess is just one of these helpful signals. An abscess in the mouth is swelling that occurs when a pus-pocket forms. This dental infection is most often caused by bacteria that's present in plaque, that infects and makes its way into a tooth or gum.
If your dentist identifies one during an examination the first thing to do is relax, because it's actually a sign that your body is doing exactly what it's supposed to, playing defense! The swelling, while it can be painful for some patients, is a barrier between the infection and the rest of your body.
What causes a tooth abscess?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA) the cause of an abscessed tooth is an infection brought on by tooth decay, periodontal disease or a cracked tooth. These problems can let bacteria enter the pulp and can lead to pulp death. If the abscess is not treated, it can lead to a serious infection in the jaw bone, teeth and surrounding tissues. A tooth-related abscess (also called a periapical abscess) occurs inside the tooth when the nerve is dead or dying. The abscess will appear at the tip of the tooth’s root before spreading to the surrounding bone.
Red and swollen gums?
You might have a gum abscess instead! Gum abscesses often appear as a red, swollen lesion on the gum line. If you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your gums, it's best to see a dentist quickly, as the sooner an abscess is treated, the better. If you’re a parent take the time to learn more about Gum Abscess in Children.
If a patient has periodontitis they are at risk for forming a periodontal abscess. According to Medical News Today, the inflammation of the gums caused from this disease can cause the tissue surrounding the root of the tooth to separate from the base of the tooth. A periodontal pocket is formed during this separation and can get infected easily from the bacteria in plaque. As bacteria builds up in the periodontal pocket, it can infect the bone, and a periodontal abscess could form. A periodontist would be referred to the patient and they would do scaling and root planing and eventually periodontal surgery to get rid of the infection.
How do I know if I have an abscess?
The pain from an abscess is usually difficult to ignore, leading most to seek treatment immediately. However, sometimes the infection causes very little, or no pain. This does not mean the infection will go away on its own, so be aware of the symptoms of tooth and gum abscesses:
- Redness in the gums
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Persistent, throbbing or severe toothache
- Extreme temperature sensitivity
- Pain when performing normal chewing or biting
- Lymph nodes under the jaw or in the neck become tender or swollen
The buildup of pressure is the cause of the pain you might feel from an abscess. As the infection pushes its way to the surface a fistula may form through the bone and skin to relieve this pressure and drain the pus. While this means the pain will disappear, the infection is still there and needs to be treated. If you don’t seek treatment early enough cysts can also begin to appear in the jaw bone. If the recommended treatment doesn’t heal the cyst, you may need surgery to remove it.
Don't worry! Let's get it treated.
In terms of gum abscesses, those heal quickly once the affected area is cleaned, any trapped pus is removed, and the underlying infection is treated. Tooth abscess treatments can vary, depending on the severity of the infection:
- Antibiotics are prescribed to destroy the bacteria causing the infection.
- The infection should be drained.
- Cleaning the space between the tooth and the gum if the cause is from gum disease.
- Root canal treatment may be performed if the abscess is caused by decay or a cracked tooth.
- If a fistula has formed, your dentist will treat it by finding the source of the infection with an X-ray and clean it out. The fistula should close on its own.
- Large abscess often will need to be drained. The dentist makes a hole in the gum through the bone that provides an exit path for any fluid or pus. This will reduce the risk of the infection spreading.
- A periodontal abscess should be treated by a periodontist and a deep cleaning and surgery will be conducted to eliminate the infection.
Remember, if you see or feel any signs of an abscess forming, you should see your dentist as soon as possible. Your body is telling you that something is wrong and doing its best to protect you from the infection spreading. Keep in mind, the only way to rid yourself of both the pain and the infection is to get proper dental treatment.