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Tooth Abscess: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and More

What is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that can accumulate at different regions of the tooth. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root, whereas a periodontal (abscess occurs in gums at the side of the tooth root). 

About Tooth Abscess

Dental plaque is a sticky film forms on teeth when bacteria in the mouth mix with sugary or starchy foods. This happens to everyone.  Tooth brushing and flossing can eliminate the plaque. If you do not remove plaque, it gets hardens into tartar. Plaque can cause cavities, tooth abscess, gum disease and tooth loss. Bacteria enters either through a dental cavity or a chip/crack in the tooth and can spread all the way down to the root. Bacterial infections may cause inflammation and swelling at the tip of the root. A periapical tooth abscess happens when bacteria invades the dental pulp (the innermost part of tooth that has nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue).

There are three forms of tooth abscess: 

  • Gingival (when the plague affects mainly your gums). 
  • Periodontal (when the infection affects the gums at the side of a root).
  • Periapical (when the abscess occurs at the tip of the tooth root). 

Your doctor may recommend root canal surgery to treat this condition. 

What are the Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess?

One of the most common and prominent symptoms of a tooth abscess is throbbing and intense pain. In most people, the pain arises all of a sudden and worsens over time. 

Pain is likely to spread to the jawbone, neck, and ears. Other signs and symptoms of the condition include the following:

  • Pain in the affected tooth and surrounding area. 
  • A sense of bad taste in the mouth. 
  • Increased sensitivity to hot or cold drinks and food items.
  • Fever.
  • Issues with swallowing.
  • Not feeling well.
  • Problems with chewing and opening your mouth.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • A swollen face.

What are the Causes of a Tooth Abscess?

Bacteria penetrating your gums or teeth are likely to cause an infection. However, how they make their way inside depends on the type of tooth abscess you have.

  • Gingival: When a foreign body, for example, a tiny food particle, a popcorn hull, a meat fiber, is trapped in your gums, it might lead to a bacterial infection if you do not remove it.
  • Periodontal: In most cases, a gum condition is likely to cause a periodontal abscess. However, it can also occur due to an injury or dental trauma.
  • Periapical: If you have dental cavities, bacteria can enter the soft pulp of your teeth, causing the tooth infection.

When Should You Seek Medical Help?

If you experience any tooth abscess symptoms, you should see your doctor at the earliest. Such dental diseases , if left untreated, can lead to severe health complications. 

How Can You Prevent a Tooth Abscess?

It is crucial to avoid tooth decay to prevent a dental abscess. Here are some of the preventive measures you can practice:

  • Make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • If possible, try using fluorinated water for drinking.
  • Make sure that your toothpaste contains fluoride.
  • Use dental floss to clean between your teeth to ensure no food particles are trapped there.
  • It is crucial to change your toothbrush every 2-3 months.
  • Try limiting sugar food products and eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Make sure to go to a dental clinic often for regular examinations.
  • Use mouthwash as and when needed.

What are the Treatment Options for a Tooth Abscess?

Your doctor will examine the affected tooth and tap on your tooth and surrounding areas to identify the abscessed tooth. Your doctor is likely to suggest an X-ray or CT scan to help understand the reach and severity of the infection. Once your doctor identifies the affected tooth, the type of the abscess, and its extent, they may recommend the following treatment options to help you get relief:

  1. Open up the infection and drain it: During this procedure, your doctor makes a small incision in the infected area to allow the accumulated pus and bacteria to drain out. After draining the abscess, your doctor will rinse the area with saline (saltwater). In some cases, the doctor can also place a minute rubber drain to keep the affected area open for more drainage until the swelling reduces. 
  1. RCT or Root Canal Treatment: In this procedure, your doctor removes the affected pulp (central tissue) by drilling a hole down the abscessed tooth. The doctor then fills the drilling hole and seals the pulp chamber of your tooth and the root canal. They also cover the operated tooth with an artificial crown to provide a strong and protective cover to your tooth. An RCT helps remove the infection properly while saving the tooth. Moreover, if you take good care of the crowned tooth, it is likely to last lifelong. 
  1. Tooth extraction: If the incision and drainage  or  the root canal procedure cannot save the affected tooth, your doctor is likely to recommend tooth extraction or tooth pulling. It will help drain out the abscess while getting rid of the infection.
  1. Antibiotics: If the infection has not spread beyond the abscessed tooth, you are less likely to need any antibiotics. However, if the tooth infection is no longer limited to one tooth and has spread to other parts, you might be prescribed antibiotics. 
  1. Pain relievers: Your doctor may also prescribe OTC (over-the-counter) pain relievers, such as paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen, to help relieve the pain right before your treatment. 

Conclusion

A tooth abscess is a dental health condition that causes considerable pain and discomfort to a person. If you or your loved ones experience any of the symptoms, you should immediately seek medical assistance. Such conditions, if not treated on time, can lead to many other health complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. I have tooth pain, and I can feel a foul taste in my mouth. My friend says I may have a tooth abscess. Should I see a doctor or wait for the infection to go on its own?

First, you have to find out the underlying cause of your tooth pain and the foul taste. For this,you need top consult a dentist . If you actually have a tooth abscess, you need immediate medical help as it is unlikely to go away on its own. If you leave it untreated, the infection may spread to various parts of your jaw, head and neck.  You may even develop sepsis, a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout the body.

  1. How long will it take to recover from a tooth abscess after the open and drain procedure?

The wound is likely to take around 1 to 2 weeks to heal fully. However, the healing time may vary depending on the incision size which depends on the severity of the abscess.

  1. I have been diagnosed with a tooth abscess lately. Will my family members also get it from me?

No, dental abscesses are not contagious. So your family members will not get it from you. However, it is still essential to maintain basic dental hygiene.

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