A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form inside the teeth, in the gums, or in the bone that holds the teeth in place. It’s caused by a bacterial infection. Dental abscesses are often painful, but not always. In either case, they should be looked at by a dentist.
It’s important to get help as soon as possible, as abscesses do not go away on their own.
- Open and drain the abscess: The dentist will make a small incision into the abscess, allowing the pus to drain out, and then wash the area with saline.
- Perform a root canal: This can help eliminate the infection and save your tooth. To do this, your endodontist drills down into your tooth removes the diseased central tissue (pulp), and drains the abscess. They will then fill and seal the tooth’s pulp chamber and root canals. The tooth may be capped with a crown to make it stronger, especially if this is a back tooth. If you care for your restored tooth properly, it can last a lifetime.
- Pull the affected tooth: If the affected tooth can’t be saved, your dentist will extract the tooth and drain the abscess to get rid of the infection.
- Prescribe antibiotics: If the infection is limited to the abscessed area, you may not need antibiotics. But if the infection has spread to nearby teeth, your jaw, or other areas, your dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics to stop it from spreading further. They may also recommend antibiotics if you have a weakened immune system.
How do I know if I have an abscess?
The main symptoms of an abscess in your tooth or gum may include:
- an intense throbbing pain in the affected tooth or gum that may come on suddenly and gets gradually worse
- pain that spreads to your ear, jaw, and neck on the same side as the affected tooth or gum
- pain that’s worse when lying down, which may disturb your sleep
- redness and swelling in your face
- a tender, discolored, or a loose tooth
- shiny, red, and swollen gums
- sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink
- bad breath or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
If the infection spreads, you may develop a fever and feel generally unwell. In severe cases, you may find it hard to fully open your mouth and have difficulty swallowing or breathing.
A periodontal abscess usually results from periodontitis or gum disease and is more common among adults. Gum disease is an infection and inflammation of the tissues around the teeth. As gum disease progresses, the bacteria gain access to deeper tissues.
You’re more likely to develop tooth infections if you:
- Smoke: Smokers are about twice as likely to get tooth infections as nonsmokers.
- Have dry mouth: Bacteria thrive in a mouth with a low amount of saliva.
- Have poor dental hygiene: Regularly brushing, flossing, and getting dental cleanings reduces bacteria.
- Have a weakened immune system: Diseases or medications can lower your immune response, making it harder to fight off germs.
If you think you have an abscess, you should see a dentist as soon as possible to avoid severe symptoms from the infection. While you are waiting to see a dentist, over-the-counter pain relievers can help control your pain. While ibuprofen is the preferred pain reliever for dental abscesses, other over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen can offer temporary relief. While these medications help with pain, they do not cure the abscess so you should not use them to delay treatment
Contact our office to schedule an appointment or to answer any questions you may have.
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