A tooth abscess is pocket of pus that lies beneath the root of a tooth and is the result of a bacterial infection. Usually, they are a result of untreated cavities, dental work that has failed, or dental trauma. A tooth abscess will cause you quite a bit of pain in the gums, teeth, and often will radiate to your inner ear.
A tooth abscess may also be called a periapical abscess by some dentists. A periodontal abscess (gum abscess) occurs next to the tooth root in the gum rather than in the tooth. Tooth abscesses are sometimes called jawbone infections. Either abscess can be quite painful and if not treated by a dentist promptly, could escalate severely.
A dentist will be able to drain the infection site of the puss and remedy the issue with either an extraction or root canal. While there is no homeopathic cure for an abscess, there are remedies that may dull the pain a bit while waiting for treatment.
Signs Of Abscess
Make no mistake about it, a tooth abscess is a dental emergency and should not be taken lightly. You need to call a dentist immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent throbbing pain in your tooth
- Pain levels that get worse as you lie down
- Tooth pain so significant that it interrupts your daily activities such as sleep, work, or eating.
- Pain that radiates to other parts of your jaw or other teeth. This will usually occur on the same side as the abscess.
Is a tooth abscess an emergency?
Absolutely, a tooth abscess is an infection and it’s a dental emergency due to the potential risk of sepsis. Sepsis is where an infection gets into the bloodstream and spreads rapidly all thru your body and vital organs. It is an often fatal condition that can be prevented if the infection is dealt with immediately.
Roughly 1-2 million emergency room visits annually in the US alone are for dental pain. Nearly 40% of them end up being the result of a tooth abscess. However, a dentist or emergency dentist is better suited to treat a tooth abscess. Dentists are trained specifically for issues dealing with pain within the mouth, jaw, teeth, and other such dental issues. Many dental visits in the US each year are for dental pain, and over 37% of these are due to tooth abscesses.
If you go to the emergency room, they will likely prescribe antibiotics and pain meds and refer you to a dentist.
Dental Abscess Types
We’ve mentioned briefly, two varieties of a dental abscess, however, there are three varieties of dental abscess:
- Tooth (Periapical) abscess: This type of abscess is found at the apex (tip) of a tooth root and stems from bacterial infection.
- Periodontal (Gum) abscess: This kind of abscess develops within a gap called a pocket situated between teeth and gums. Eventually, it may spread to the tooth or the periodontal ligament, usually as a result of gum disease. A gum abscess is further broken down into two sub-categories:
- Gingival abscess: Gingival abscess is a gum abscess that is isolated to the pocket and hasn’t affected the periodontal ligament. Usually, this happens in the early stages of gum disease.
- Pericoronal abscess: A pericoronal abscess is a gum abscess that also affects the soft tissue around the crown.
- Combined periodontal-endodontic abscess: This is a bit more complex, but in a nutshell, it’s when the two main abscesses are combined.
Symptoms Of A Tooth Abscess
Tooth abscess often presents itself blatantly, with pain around the tooth or in the gum tissue surrounding the root.
What does an abscessed tooth feel like?
Usually, you will feel throbbing pain like mentioned earlier. It comes out of nowhere and gradually gets worse.
Although the pain seems to come out of thin air, the abscess has been developing for years likely. A tooth abscess is often asymptomatic for a long time before it begins to cause tooth pain.
Symptoms of a tooth abscess include:
- Throbbing pain in the tooth or and/or your gums
- Pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or ear
- Swollen mandible
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck or under your jaw
- Facial redness or swelling
- Severe tooth sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- A sore on the gum that oozes puss
- An ache in the jawbone surrounding teeth
- General ill feeling
- Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)
Your dentist will perform a physical assessment of your face, lymph nodes, and the inside of your mouth, as well as an intraoral x-ray and/or cone-beam CT (CBCT), to diagnose a tooth abscess. He or she will tap on (palpate) your teeth, as an infected tooth is usually sensitive to touch. Common external signs of an abscess in the tooth include gums that are inflamed, red, and/or obvious tooth decay.
Is it an abscess, or something else? Only a dentist can accurately diagnose a tooth abscess. Although tooth abscess pain is intense, it’s not always the cause of tooth pain. Conditions that show similar symptoms of a tooth abscess include:
- Oral cancer
- Actinomycosis (rare infectious disease)
- Rare bone tumors such as Ewing’s sarcoma
- Cemento-osseous dysplasia (a condition in the jaw where connective tissue and an abnormal bone bond with normal bone tissue. It looks very much like tooth abscess when x-rayed)
Causes & Risk Factors For Tooth Abscess
As discussed, tooth abscess is most commonly caused by tooth decay, dental trauma, or dental work that has failed.
An abscess due to failed dental work, however, is far less common. Untreated cavities that turn into decay are the usual suspect or injury.
Things That Increase Risk Of Cavities:
- High consumption of sugar or other refined carbs such as HFCS
- Dry mouth
- Antibacterial dental rinses and products that alter the oral microbiome
- Lack of nutrients such as vitamin K2, D3, and calcium
- Illicit drug use, specifically meth
- Tobacco use
- Poor oral care
- Trauma of the teeth of face
If you leave a cavity or crack in your teeth untreated, it can allow bacteria to enter the dental pulp. This area is usually not exposed to external bacteria as it contains blood vessels and nerves. Exposure causes inflammation, pus, swelling all of which are part of a condition known as pulpitis. In the early stages of pulpitis caused by infection, it is reversible.
However, when it’s due to injury or failed dental work, it may be damaged beyond saving. Over time the pressure inside builds up and that is the source of the throbbing pain. At this point, it’s an abscess and it needs to be treated properly. Once the abscess is drained, the pain stops almost instantly. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all well and done. The infection still needs to be dealt with, so usually, a root canal or extraction is needed.
Do You Feel You Might Have An Abscess?
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve covered and your dentist is closed, contact us immediately. We may be able to get you in versus waiting until your dentist is open. Time is of the essence so book online with us and let’s get you some relief.