An abscess is a pus filled, swollen tissue. It is caused by a bacterial infection. The body’s response to the infection is sending white blood cells to fight the bacteria. This results in the formation of pus in the location. A dental abscess is a pus-filled cavity in the mouth. It could be located within the tooth in the pulp, or in the space between the gums and the tooth.
The two main types of dental abscesses are periapical abscess and periodontal abscess. The periapical abscess is formed when the bacterial infection takes root within the tooth and the pulp of the tooth is infected. The periodontal abscess is formed when the bacteria takes root in the space formed between the gum and the tooth.
Image Credit: By Anetlanda / Shutterstock
Symptoms of Dental Abscesses
- The most telling symptom of a dental abscess is a severe toothache. There may be intense pain which throbs in the location of the abscess. It may start suddenly and will continue to become worse as it spreads.
- It will affect your full jaw, ear, and part of the neck on the side of the abscess. Often it is difficult to sleep on that side as the pain increases with the pressure of laying that side of the face on the pillow.
- The physical appearance will show some amount of swelling on the face outside. There may be redness and tenderness in the skin tissue as well.
- The gums may look shiny and swollen. The teeth may be loose and begin to shift a little within the gum. This is especially true for a periodontal abscess.
- There will be a lot of sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks. There will be difficulty swallowing food.
- The bacterial infection will leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth as well as promote bad breath. As the infection strengthens, the individual may also develop a high temperature.
- In rare cases, there may be a problem breathing. If the pain, fever, and swelling are accompanied by difficulty in breathing, please seek medical treatment immediately.
Diagnosis of Dental Abscesses
Ideally, a six monthly visit to the dentist should be made a regular practice. This will allow the dentist to spot any signs of tooth decay or infection in the gums which could eventually lead to the formation of an abscess in the mouth.
Should a routine dental check up not be on the cards, the individual should head to the dentist if there is any visible swelling or on the onset of acute pain, usually associated with a dental abscess.
A GP will not be able to help with a dental abscess. It is important to get immediate help for the painful condition from a dentist. The dentist will be able to provide the formal diagnosis and begin the remedial treatment immediately.
Treatment of Dental Abscesses
The first line of treatment will be painkillers to manage the pain. The preferred drug prescriptions are Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, or Aspirin. Children under the age of sixteen years should not be given Aspirin.
The dentist will also prescribe an antibiotic to bring the bacterial infection under control. The initial drug will be a broad spectrum antibiotic, but post an analysis of the pus after draining the abscess, a more specific drug may be recommended.
The dental abscess in the gum will be drained of the pus by making a small incision, and the source of the infection will be removed. The affected tissue is usually surgically extracted. This is followed by a thorough cleansing to ensure that no infection is left behind in the gum.
Should the abscess be present in the pulp of the tooth, a root canal treatment will be performed. This will entail removing the abscess, usually located in the pulp, filling the gap left in the middle of the tooth to ensure no cavity remains, and finally sealing it so bacteria cannot sneak back inside. A crown will be placed on the tooth after some time to ensure that the treatment was successful and no infection is seen again.
In some cases, a dental abscess within a tooth may remain symptom free for long even if the pulp is infected. The tooth is hollowed out by the pulpitis and merely a shell remains. In such cases, it may crack while performing a root canal. Then a surgical extraction of the tooth may be required.
The exact treatment procedure will differ from case to case. The sooner an abscess is drained, the less damage it is likely to do to the organ involved. Do not delay getting medical attention. Follow the oral hygiene practices that the dentist recommends post treatment to ensure that no secondary infection takes root.