What is a Dental Infection or an Abscessed Tooth?
A dental infection (tooth abscess) originates at the tooth or its supporting structures and can spread to the surrounding tissue. A tooth abscess is the result of bacterial infections causing a pocket of pus to form in different regions of the tooth or gums. The infection spreads as the pocket increases in size, often causing sharp pain.
Different kinds of abscessed teeth include:
- Periapical abscess is the most common type. It happens when bacteria enter the pulp inside one of your teeth.
- Periodontal abscess is when bacteria infect your gums.
- Gingival abscess is usually caused by something that gets stuck in your gums, like a food particle or a broken tooth.
Infections result most often from poor oral hygiene. A buildup of plaque and tartar causes tooth decay, allowing bacteria to invade the tooth.
Who Gets Tooth Infections?
Anyone who doesn’t maintain good oral health can develop a tooth abscess. The cavities that allow bacteria inside protective tooth enamel can be caused by:
- Improper brushing or flossing
- Not using a fluoride toothpaste
- Alcohol consumption
- A poor diet
- Certain medical conditions, and medications
What Are the Symptoms of a Tooth Infection?
Signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess typically include:
- Severe, persistent, throbbing toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck, or ear
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
- Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing or biting
- Swelling in your gums, cheek, or face
- Redness of your mouth or face
- Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
- Sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting, salty fluid in your mouth and pain relief, if the abscess ruptures
- A hard time fully opening your mouth or swallowing
Symptoms of an advanced infection may include:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Are There Complications With Tooth Infections?
If left untreated, an infection in an abscessed tooth can spread to your jaw, neck, and face. In some cases, it can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening infection that spreads to other parts of your body. Fortunately, due to improved dental hygiene, modern dental procedures, and antibiotics, dental infections are rarely life-threatening today.
It’s important to visit your dentist if you have signs of an abscessed tooth so that they can get rid of the infection in its early stages. If an infection has spread beyond your teeth and gums to other parts of your face, neck, or body, seek treatment at an urgent care center or at the emergency department of your local hospital.
How Can I Prevent an Abscess or Tooth Infection?
Avoiding tooth decay is essential to preventing a tooth abscess. To avoid tooth decay:
- Use fluoridated drinking water or fluoride supplements.
- Brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day.
- Use dental floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between your teeth daily.
- Replace your toothbrush every three or four months or whenever the bristles are frayed.
- Consume healthy food and drinks, limiting sugary items.
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups and professional cleanings.
- Consider using an antiseptic or fluoride mouth rinse as an extra layer of protection against tooth decay.
What Are the Treatment Options for an Abscessed Tooth?
To treat an abscessed tooth, your dentist may:
- Open up (incise) and drain the abscess. Your dentist will make a small cut into the abscess, allowing the pus to drain out, and then wash the area with salt water (saline). Occasionally, a small rubber drain is placed to keep the area open for drainage while the swelling decreases.
- Perform a root canal treatment. This can help eliminate the infection and save your tooth. To do this, your dentist drills down into your tooth removes the diseased central tissue (pulp), and drains the abscess. Your dentist then fills and seals the tooth’s pulp chamber and root canals. The tooth may be capped with a crown to make it stronger, especially if it’s a back tooth.
- Pull the affected tooth. If the affected tooth can’t be saved, your dentist will pull (extract) the tooth and drain the abscess to get rid of the infection. The space created by tooth extractions can be filled with implants, bridges, or dentures.
- Prescribe antibiotics. If the infection is limited to the abscessed area, you may not need antibiotics. But if the infection has spread to nearby teeth, your jaw or other areas, your dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics to stop it from spreading further. He or she may also recommend antibiotics if you have a weakened immune system.
Call Us Immediately at the First Sign of Infection
Dental infections are most easily dealt with in the early stages. Please contact us immediately if you experience symptoms of a tooth abscess. Our experienced, compassionate team can treat the infection and restore you to health.