You're relaxing after a day at work or spending time with your family when you feel a sharp pain in your mouth. If you have a history of dental problems – such as inflammation in gums, teeth or even cavities – the pain could be related to a dental abscess.
There are two types of dental abscess: a periapical (tooth) abscess affects the root of the tooth. The other type, a periodontal (gum) abscess, affects the gums. The latter usually occurs in severe cases of periodontal disease, when the gums have pulled away from the teeth, causing pockets to form. Both types of abscess consist of small pockets that fill with pus. With the right treatment, you can recover from either type and regain control of your oral health.
Although tooth cavities or periodontal problems can be hard to detect at first, it's usually very easy to tell when an abscess has formed. The main symptom is intense pain. Pain from a tooth abscess is described as continuous, sharp, and often severe enough to be disruptive. You might experience trouble chewing, sensitivity to hot or cold foods, and even swollen lymph nodes – which help fight infection throughout the body.
You might also be able to feel the abscess in your mouth. In the case of a periodontal abscess, a lesion will form in the affected area. A small bump that looks like a pimple can also form on the gum near a tooth abscess.
Make an appointment with your dentist when you suspect or discover either type of abscess. Until then, practise swishing with salt water to help ease the pain. Your dentist might also recommend taking over-the-counter pain medication.
The first step in treating either a tooth or gum abscess is to drain the germs from the pocket and clean the area. Your dentist will most likely prescribe antibiotics to kill any remaining germs. Take the medication as directed for the best results.
The next step in treatment depends on the location of the abscess:
- A root canal is often performed in the case of a tooth abscess. During this process, the dentist generally removes the pulp from the centre of the tooth, cleans out the area, fills the canal and adds a crown to support the tooth so it looks healthy and natural.
- Treating a periodontal abscess involves seeing a periodontist to assist in draining the abscess and providing a deep cleaning to the area with scaling and root planing. The process removes plaque and tartar from the surface of the tooth and from below the gumline. It also smooths the surface of the tooth and root, making it more difficult for bacteria to cling to it. An antiobiotic may be prescribed to eliminate the infection. If the bone or gums are severely damaged from periodontal disease, a patient may need surgery to clean the infection from the bones and supporting tissue in order to keep an abscess from returning.
Once a dental abscess has been treated and resolved, practising good oral care at home can help keep the issue from occurring again. Choose a toothpaste that offers germ-fighting protection and helps prevent tartar build-up. No matter what you do at home, it's always a good idea to see your dentist regularly, at least twice a year. If you have a history of gum problems, your dentist may want to see you more often to make sure your gums stay healthy.
Getting treatment for a dental abscess is one of the best things you can do for your health. Untreated, the condition can cause further problems. With consistent care, it usually goes away, leaving you with a clean and healthy-looking smile.