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 be dangerous, and even life-threatening in some cases. So, on the scale of "just a 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.
Abscessed Tooth Dangers
What Causes a Tooth Abscess?
A tooth abscess is a sac of pus in your gums caused by an infection. Germs most commonly get into teeth or gums and create an infection due to one of the following:
- A cavity
If you have a cavity, germs in your mouth have damaged your tooth, even reaching as deep as the blood vessels and nerves in your tooth's pulp (the inner chamber). According to the South African Dental Association (SADA), a decreased intake of sugars and well-balanced nutrition help prevent tooth decay. That's why the most impactful thing you can do to prevent cavities starts at home. By watching what you eat and practising good oral hygiene, you can significantly reduce cavity-causing germs 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 germs to infect your gums.
- Gum problems
If you experience inflammation, tenderness or sensitivity in your gums, this may be a sign of more serious gum problems. If your condition 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 in the United States over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal 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 infected area, 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 the 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 hospitalised.
Treatment and Prevention
If you have a tooth abscess, your dental professional may use 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.
In most cases, tooth abscesses can be prevented by practising 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 check-ups 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 check-up – 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.