What is a Dental abscess?
A dental abscess, also known as a tooth abscess, is an infection that originates from a gum or tooth infection or cavity. It can affect the mouth, face, jaw, and throat area. Patients with inadequate oral hygiene are particularly prone to developing an abscessed tooth, which is a result of inadequate and untimely dental care. This type of bacterial infection gives rise to moderate to severe pain that can occasionally extend to the ears or neck.
Untreated tooth abscesses can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening conditions. Tooth abscesses come in various forms include:
- Periapical abscess: Bacteria can gain entry into the pulp of the tooth, which is the tissue comprised of nerve endings, blood vessels, and connective tissue within the tooth. This often occurs due to a cavity.
- Periodontal abscess: Gum disease is a common cause of this type of condition. However, an injury may also be responsible for its onset.
- Gingival abscess: Your gums may become impacted by a foreign object like a toothbrush bristle or popcorn hull.
A dental abscess may develop due to inadequate dental care when an infected tooth is left untreated. Proper oral hygiene, including brushing, flossing, and rinsing, can help reduce the likelihood of tooth decay. Factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet, and certain medical conditions or medications can contribute to the formation of cavities in teeth. Bacteria can spread to the gums and other areas surrounding the teeth, resulting in a painful dental abscess.
Symptoms of Dental Abscess
The primary symptom is a persistent and severe toothache sensation. This pain can range from gnawing, sharp, shooting, or throbbing in nature, and does not cease.
Symptoms indicative of a dental abscess include:
- Experience pain in the affected area upon biting or when touched.
- Sensitivity when consuming cold or hot food and liquids.
- An unpleasant and distasteful sensation in the mouth.
- A generally unwell feeling.
- Difficulties encountered when attempting to open the mouth.
- Swallowing difficulties.
A dental abscess is characterized by pain as its primary symptom. This pain is often intense and has a throbbing sensation to it, and usually begins suddenly with more intensity over the following hours or days. In some cases, the pain can radiate to the ear, jawbone, and neck.
Diagnosing dental abscesses
If a dental abscess is suspected, it is strongly recommended that the individual seek professional dental care immediately. The dentist will conduct a thorough dental examination of the affected area, which may include testing the tooth in question by pressing on it or tapping it with specialized instruments. If an infection is present in the tooth, it may be sensitive to pressure and tapping (percussion) and typically causes pain. Additionally, if the abscess is periapical, swelling at the root of the tooth may cause the tooth to become elevated in its socket, feeling higher than the other teeth in the area.
Laboratory testing is not typically necessary to confirm an abscess; however, a dental X-ray of the affected tooth and the surrounding mouth region is typically used to pinpoint the exact location and size of the abscess.
It is recommended to aspirate the abscess and conduct a culture on the pus in order to identify the bacteria present. This information can then be utilized to direct antibiotic therapy, if necessary.
How is it treated?
Treatment for an abscessed tooth typically involves addressing the infection and relieving any associated pain. Your dentist may begin by taking a dental X-ray, in order to determine if the infection has spread to other areas.
Depending on the type and severity of the abscess, treatment options may include:
Draining the abscess: Your dentist will make a small incision in the abscess to allow for the drainage of any pus. Following this, the area will be cleaned using a saline solution.
A root canal procedure: A root canal procedure involves drilling into the affected tooth, draining any abscess and removing any infected pulp. Following this, the pulp chamber and the root canal will be filled and sealed by your dentist. A dental crown procedure may be recommended to strengthen the tooth. This procedure is typically completed during a separate appointment.
Tooth extraction: If the tooth is too damaged, your dentist may determine that it must be extracted before they can proceed with draining the abscess. In this situation, the tooth may not be able to be saved, and extraction followed by drainage of the abscess will be required.
Antibiotics: If the bacterial infection has extended beyond the abscessed area or if a weakened immune system is present, your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics to facilitate in eliminating the infection.
Removal of foreign object: If a foreign object is the source of an abscess, the dentist will remove it and flush the area with a saline solution to finalize the procedure.
If you are unable to obtain an immediate appointment with your dentist, you may consider taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to alleviate any pain. Additionally, rinsing your mouth with warm salt water may also provide relief.
It is possible to purchase over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication online.
Are there any complications?
It is essential to seek professional dental care for an abscessed tooth as soon as possible. Even if the tooth has already ruptured, it is advised that an examination and cleaning of the area be conducted by a dentist to prevent further infection.
Failure to treat an infection can potentially lead to spread of the infection to the jaw and other sections of the head and neck, including the brain. In extremely rare circumstances, sepsis may develop as a result; this is a hazardous side effect of the infection.
Please seek immediate medical attention at your nearest emergency room If you are experiencing an abscessed tooth accompanied by:
- High fever
- Facial swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Rapid heart rate
Signs of serious infection have been observed and require prompt medical attention.
Prevention of a Tooth Abscess
The importance of preventive measures in regards to attaining and sustaining optimal dental health cannot be understated. Practicing proper oral hygiene habits on a daily basis through brushing and flossing, in addition to regular dental check-ups can help reduce the risk of tooth decay and abscesses.
It is important to follow your dentist’s advice and ensure that you brush, floss, and rinse your teeth regularly.
If tooth decay is identified early and treated quickly, it usually can be prevented from developing into cavities that could lead to the formation of abscesses.
It is advised to abstain from cigarette smoking and limit consumption of alcohol.