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Abscessed Tooth Dangers

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Pus is a natural sign of your body fighting infection. Sometimes it's no cause for concern (like the pus in your average pimple, for instance.) However, infections that create pus can also be dangerous and even life-threatening. So on the scale of "pimple" to "rush to the hospital immediately," how dangerous is the pus in an abscessed tooth? We'll break down the causes, risks, and treatment, so you know what to do if you have a small unwanted sac of fluid in your gums.

What Causes a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a sac of pus in your gums caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria most commonly get into teeth or gums and create an infection because of one of the following:

  • A cavity
    If you have a cavity, bacteria in your mouth have damaged your tooth, and the decay may have allowed bacteria to reach the blood vessels and nerves in your tooth's pulp (the inner chamber). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tooth decay levels are exceptionally high in the United States and the rest of the Americas due to the level of sugars and fermentable carbohydrates consumed here. That's why the most impactful thing you can do to prevent cavities starts at home. By watching what you eat and practicing good oral hygiene, you can significantly reduce cavity-causing bacteria from flourishing in your mouth.
  • A fractured, chipped, or broken tooth
    If your tooth has been fractured from impact, injury, or a problem with an existing root canal, the damage may have allowed bacteria to infect your gums.
  • Gum disease
    If you have some inflammation or bleeding in your gums, you may be in the early, less severe gum disease stage called gingivitis. If your gingivitis goes untreated, your inflammation can cause tooth abscesses and could even develop into a more severe condition called periodontitis. Periodontitis causes tissue to recede, bone to be destroyed, teeth to loosen, and your teeth could even fall out.

Interesting fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47.2 percent of adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease.

What Are the Symptoms of an Abscessed Tooth?

If you have a tooth that is sensitive to both hot and cold, you might have a cavity that is irritating the nerve. An abscess could also be developing if your tooth is tender to the touch or causing discomfort while chewing. Swelling of the gums, sharp or shooting pain, and sores on your gums may also be signs of an abscess. You may even experience symptoms like a fever, swollen neck glands, and just feeling generally ill.

What Are the Dangers of an Abscessed Tooth?

Tooth abscesses tend to stay contained to the area that's infected, but you should contact your dental professional and set up an appointment to treat the abscess and the condition that caused it right away. In rare situations, the infection can spread and create complications.

If an abscess in a lower tooth spreads, it can infect your neck and floor of your mouth, making it difficult for you to breathe. An abscess in one of your upper teeth could spread to your sinuses and eyes. Don't worry. These types of spread are uncommon, but they do happen, and it's worth getting treatment to avoid the possibility of being hospitalized.

Treatment and Prevention

If you have a tooth abscess, your dental professional may utilize one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Draining the Abscess
    Your dental professional may make a small incision in your abscess to drain the pus from your gums.
  • Root Canal Procedure
    Your dental professional may give you a root canal so they can remove the infected pulp. According to the American Association of Endodontists, millions of root canal procedures are done every year.
  • Tooth Extraction
    In some circumstances, your tooth may need to be extracted to stop the infection.

Learn more about root canals vs. tooth extraction to find out which option is right for you.

In most cases, tooth abscesses can be prevented by practicing good oral hygiene. Brush at least twice a day. Floss or clean between your teeth with interdental brushes or water flossers at least once a day, and use an antimicrobial mouthrinse and a tongue scraper. Be sure to see your dental professional for regular checkups and to check the health of your teeth and gums. If you notice any irregularities or sensitivities in the health of your gums, don't wait until your next checkup – make an appointment with a dental professional right away. Together, you will be able to get your oral health back to a condition you can smile about.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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