Dental abscesses are relatively common. Unfortunately, they are often quite painful experiences. Along with the pain, however, there’s a significant concern for spreading infection that poses a risk to your overall health if left untreated.
Dr. Brett P. Lent is an award-winning dentist who leads our team here at First Impression Dental in Fresno, California. He answers questions about the types of dental abscesses and the professional care that’s necessary to resolve these bacterial infections.
What is a dental abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of inflammation and swelling caused by a buildup of bacteria. There are several types of dental abscesses. The two most common are:
This type of dental abscess develops when bacteria invade the soft, innermost layer of the tooth (dental pulp). The pulp contains blood vessels, multiple highly sensitive nerve endings, and connective tissue.
A periodontal abscess starts in the gingival (gum) tissue next to a tooth and may eventually spread into bone and other areas.
What causes a dental abscess?
A periapical abscess may occur as the result of a cavity or crack in the affected tooth that allows bacteria to enter and spread down to the root.
Periodontitis (gum disease) or a foreign body, such as a popcorn husk, trapped between your tooth and gum are often responsible for a periodontal abscess. Even a loose toothbrush bristle that becomes embedded between your teeth can lead to an abscess.
In either case, the infection can eventually spread into your jaw, head, and other nearby tissue structures. While rare, the bacteria related to a dental abscess can enter the bloodstream and lead to systemic infection (sepsis) that can become life-threatening.
What are the symptoms of a dental abscess?
Most dental abscesses cause a throbbing, constant pain that worsens as the infection advances. A gum abscess may start as a tender, swollen area or bump that increases in size as the bacteria multiply.
Other symptoms of a dental abscess include:
- Tooth pain that can travel (radiate) to the jaw, neck, or ear
- Extreme tooth sensitivity to temperature changes
- Discolored or loose teeth
- Pain when chewing or biting
- Swelling or redness in your face or cheek
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
- Bad breath
- Fever and a general sense of illness (malaise)
You may notice a sudden foul-tasting fluid in your mouth if the abscess ruptures. That often brings immediate but temporary pain relief. It does not, however, resolve the underlying infection or its cause. For that, you need professional care.
How do you treat a dental abscess?
Treatment for an abscess includes resolving your pain, clearing the infection, and addressing the underlying cause.
Depending on your situation, Dr. Lent may recommend:
- Draining a gum abscess with a small surgical incision
- A root canal procedure to clear infected tooth pulp
- Tooth extraction if the infected tooth can’t be saved
- Antibiotics to help clear the infection
- Future treatment for gum disease, dental decay, and other oral health issues
Note that First Impression Dental offers a full suite of emergency dentistry services, including treatment for dental abscesses. We offer emergency walk-in appointments during normal business hours and are otherwise available by phone.
For outstanding dental care for individuals of all ages, schedule a visit at First Impression Dental today.