What is a dental abscess or tooth abscess?

Comprehensive overview covers symptoms, causes and treatment of this painful tooth condition.

ENGLAND, November 14, 2012 -  Do you have a dental abscess? Do not wait! Visit the dentist as soon as possible, as it can lead to toothache as well as other problems. If it is left untreated then there are chances that you will have to lose your teeth.

What exactly is a dental abscess?

A dental abscess is mainly a collection of pus or infection. Pus is a thick fluid of blood that comprises of white blood cells, bacteria and dead tissues.

There are two primary types of dental abscess:

Periapical Abscess

This is one of the common kinds of abscess and it affects the centre of the tooth where the nerve is. This kind of abscess is usually caused from complications of tooth decay. The protective layers of the tooth, enamel and dentine, are damaged and broken. The damage that is caused allows the bacteria to occupy the pulp space where the nerve is which leads to infection.  

Peridontal Abscess

This kind of abscess begins in structures of teeth that are periodontium. These tissues surround the tooth. With this, there is often already a risk of gum disease. When you suffer with gum disease the gum will become separated from the tooth. This causes pockets which become filled by the bacteria and ultimately lead to abscess.

How is an abscessed tooth diagnosed?

If you have an abscessed tooth, you will feel pain when the dentist probes the tooth. After this, your dentist might ask you whether you feel the pain at the time you bite down or close your mouth tightly. If your gums are swollen or are red then the dentist might get an idea that you are suffering from an abscessed tooth. The dentist might also take an x-ray to check the condition of the tooth and supporting tissues.

What are the signs of an abscess?

Here are a few symptoms that are related to dental abscess:

  • Toothache which gets bad very quickly. This can be very severe.
  • Tender swelling of the gum
  • The affected tooth is tender when touched
  • The tooth might become lose.
  • Skin on the abscess can turn red and get inflamed which can also lead to swelling of the face.
  • High fever and feeling unwell all the time
  • In serious cases there might be spasm in the jaw muscle

What treatments are available for a dental abscess?

When you visit the dentist he/she will drain the pus if possible and this gives great relief to the symptoms.

There are times when infection is not contained and so cannot be drained. In these cases, the dentist prescribes an antibiotic for clearing the infection. This is only a short term solution and you should follow this up with a course of treatment otherwise the abscess will return.

If you delay going to the dentist you might be prescribed antibiotics to prevent the infection getting worse or spreading. But the antibiotics will not necessarily clear the pus and will also not cure the abscess.

Additional treatment involves the following:

For Periapical Abscess:

The treatment for this kind of abscess is a root canal. With this treatment, you can save as well as restore the inner part of the tooth that is damaged or dead.

In this process, the dentist will drill into the tooth which will allow the pus to escape over the tooth and remove the dead pulp tissue.

To fill in the space, a root filling is placed in the tooth and this will help in protection from further infection. If the infection still remains after carrying out toot canal treatment then the dentist will have to remove the tooth.

For Periodontal Abscess:

The pus is drained by cleaning the pocket where the abscess has developed. With this the root surface will be made smooth to motivate gums that are nearby to reattach to the tooth tissue. With this the chances of recurrence of infection will become less. If you face this situation repeated times then you will have to visit a specialist dentist who will carry out the process that will shape the gum tissue again.

Is there a possibility of preventing dental abscess?

The majority of dental abscesses can be prevented with proper oral hygiene. This includes brushing and flossing in the right manner. There are various other things that can help, such as tongue cleaning, mouthwashes, having a healthy diet, etc. If you smoke then you will have to stop smoking in order to maintain oral hygiene.

If you do not know how to maintain oral hygiene then there is lot of information available which you can use to your advantage. Make sure that you have regular dental check ups at least once a year. Ask your dentist or hygienist for tips.

Do not delay if you feel any pain as you might be suffering from a dental abscess! Visit the dentist as soon as possible!


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Dr. Priya Patel

I’m Dr. Priya Patel with over 10 years of experience in the dental industry and dental principal of Village Dental Practice in Stevenage, UK.  I qualified from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Dental Hospital in 2002 from London. I involve patients in their own treatment and enjoy seeing the improvement in a patient as their treatment progresses.

I also teach dentists at the Royal College of Surgeons in London who are completing postgraduate studies as well as overseas dentists who are studying for their equivalency exams.

You can follow Dr. Patel on Twitter at @dentistmum

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