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Abscessed Tooth


An abscessed tooth is an infection, or a collection of pus within the pulp (inner part of tooth). The pus, or abscess, is enclosed in the tissues of the jaw bone, as well as at the tip of the infected tooth. In most cases, an abscess tooth is the result of tooth decay, but there are numerous reasons why an abscess tooth forms.

There are three types of abscess teeth: a gingival abscess, periapical abscess and a periodontal abscess. The gingival abscess occurs in the gum tissue only, not affecting the tooth or the periodontal ligament. The periapical abscess is found in the dental pulp and the periodontal abscess occurs in the supporting bone and tissue structures of the teeth.

A tooth abscess needs to be treated as soon as possible. If it isn’t, it can lead to serious, life-threatening complications. Prevention of abscess teeth is key to maintaining proper oral health.

Tooth Abscess Symptoms

If you have an abscess tooth, chances are you’ll be experiencing serious symptoms, including:

  • Severe toothache that will not stop throbbing
  • Increased sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity when biting or chewing
  • Swelling in face, cheeks and lymph nodes (located under your jaw or in your neck)
  • Taste of pus or infection in your mouth
  • Foul-smelling odor from the infection in your mouth

You will definitely be able to tell if your tooth is an abscess or not due to the factors listed above. The pain is severe and refuses to go away. You will be able to taste the bacteria filled pus that is oozing from the infection if the abscess tooth is left untreated. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting due to the bacteria invading the body.

When to See the Dentist

You should see your dentist twice a year, or every six months to ensure your oral health is in good condition. If you do not see your dentist regularly, and you are having symptoms of a tooth abscess, you should make an appointment immediately. A tooth abscess can go from bad to worse within hours, so seeking medical attention is critical to avoid the symptoms listed above. If your dentist is unavailable and you are experiencing a fever and swelling in your face, you should go to the emergency room. Fevers and swelling are indicators that the infection has spread deeper into the jaw, bones, surrounding tissues, and other parts of your body.

Tooth Abscess Causes

The number one cause of a tooth abscess is poor oral hygiene. Abscess teeth occur when bacteria has the chance to build-up and enter into the dental pulp. The dental pulp is the most important part of each tooth, where the blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues are. Bacteria invades the dental pulp through a number of different ways such as through a broken, chipped or cracked tooth, through a dental cavity, or it may be able to enter a persons system due to an underlying autoimmune disorder such as Sjogren’s Syndrome.

Other causes include:

  • Trauma to the tooth or mouth
  • Medical conditions that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes
  • Gingivitis
  • Gum disease

Abscess Tooth Treatment

The first thing your dentist will want to do is take panoramic x-rays to see how bad the abscess is, or to see if it has spread to other parts of your mouth, such as into your jaw bone. Treatment involves eliminating the infection and draining the pus or bacteria from the tooth. Drainage can happen three ways: root canal, incision or tooth extraction. Extracting the tooth allows drainage, but doesn’t allow you to save the tooth. Dentists try to preserve teeth by performing root canals, but sometimes root canal surgery may be required to remove diseased root tissue. Your dentist may consider draining the abscess by means of an incision into the swollen gum tissue.

Antibiotics may also be prescribed to help fight the infection and to prevent or stop the infection from spreading further. Many times, over-the-counter pain medication such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol can help reduce pain, fight infection and reduce swelling.

Preventing Tooth Abscesses

Preventing a tooth abscess is simple. All you have to do is maintain proper oral health by brushing your teeth, flossing and rinsing at least twice a day. Plus, you have to continue to see the dentist every six months. Regular check-ups are a great way to detect problems early or before they turn into abscess teeth. Your dentist may be able to fill a cavity or give you a good cleaning during your visits. Either way, your dentist will be able to spot problems, conditions and diseases during their early stages. Another key prevention tip is if you are injured or trauma occurs to your teeth, seek dental care. Bacteria can invade your teeth quickly, within minutes of being exposed to uninfected area.

Page updated February 2011



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