Most commonly caused by dental decay, untreated gingivitis or gum disease, an abscessed tooth is a painful infection that no one wants to encounter. One way to avoid an abscess is to follow a strict oral health routine that includes brushing, flossing and regular checkups. Some tooth abscesses are not so easily avoided and those are caused by trauma or injury. No matter what the culprit be it decay, disease or trauma, each of these situations can lead to a break in the enamel of the tooth where bacteria can enter, eventually infecting the pulp of the tooth, the gums and even surrounding teeth and facial bones.
At the most critical level, a tooth abscess can spread throughout the soft tissue of the face and cause something called cellulitis, or dramatic swelling of the face and neck. As the infection spreads it can become critical leading to breathing difficulties and problems opening the mouth.
The Basics of Tooth Abscess
As with any medical situation, an abscess is a swelling that has become filled with bacteria forming pus. There are three similar types of dental abscesses, depending on where they originate, that follow a general flow of severity.
- A gum or gingival abscess results from injury or infection at the surface of the gum tissue.
- An untreated infection can migrate deep into gum pockets, where drainage of pus is blocked leading to periodontal abscess.
- A periapical abscess occurs in a tooth where the pulp itself is infected.
An abscess can happen suddenly or it may occur over time appearing without any signs or symptoms. In the early stages, the gums around the abscess become swollen and painful and the tooth itself may be loose and sensitive to chewing. Pressure on the area may cause the tooth the drain pus, and in this situation, dull throbbing pain can also become a problem. A periodontal abscess can also create overall feelings of sickness, fever, and swelling of the lymph glands in the neck. Conversely, in some cases, prolonged infection may produce no outward signs or symptoms. Long term or chronic infections of the jaw caused by tooth abscess can cause extensive damage over time.
Tooth Abscess Symptoms:
There are several symptoms whose severity may vary. Some of them include;
- sensitivity to hot or cold
- bitter taste in the month
- bad breath
- swollen glands of the neck
- painful chewing
- swelling of the upper or lower jaw
Left untreated an abscessed tooth can eventually lead to serious dental complications as well as complications to the overall health and immune system. Tooth infections can spread to other areas of the mouth and cause extensive tooth loss, or compromise the immune system – and although rare, may become life threatening.
Breaking down the Causes of Tooth Abscess
A gum abscess – results from irritation usually due to foreign objects such as toothpicks. Gum abscesses can also stem from food being jammed into the gums, or by aggressive brushing. This sort of trauma can create a break in the surface of the gum where bacteria can then invade leading to a localized infection. This type of infection usually appears red, soft and shiny. As the infection advances, the area will develop a lesion where pus is released.
A periodontal abscess – develops when the gum pocket gets blocked by food buildup resulting in plaque and tartar. If food particles are not removed daily, harmful bacteria will flourish which triggers the body’s immune system to fight the foreign substances and the harmful bacteria contained in the plaque which leads to infection in the gum area.
A periapical abscess – caused by damage to the nerve of the tooth will present along with swelling, pain, reddening of the gums, and sensitivity to chewing and/or hot or cold. This type of tooth abscess usually appears as a deep cavity in the tooth. Fever, lack of energy and swelling in the neck area may occur. In the worst case scenario, a fistula (a tube-like passage from the abscess to the surface of the gums) forms allowing the fluids to be released into the surrounding tissues resulting in an infection called cellulitis. Fever, chills, and lack of appetite increase as the infection worsens.
Studies have shown several types of bacteria that can be harmful to the whole body are found at various stages of gum disease including;
Treatment for an Abscessed Tooth
The best treatment for a tooth abscess is to make an appointment to see your dentist immediately. Over the counter pain relief medication such as Ibuprofen will help with pain in the meantime, as will swishing with warm salt water or flushing the area with diluted hydrogen peroxide mixed with water. Once you arrive at the dentist’s office an X-ray is usually performed as part of the exam to determine exactly what type of abscess or infection is present. Treatment is prescribed based on the health of the patient and the severity of the infection. To learn more contact our office at ….