Tooth abscesses are sores caused by an accumulation of pus inside a tooth. Dental abscesses typically result from bacterial infections occurring in the gums, jaw bone or in the nerve of the tooth (the “pulp”). The most common causes of abscessed teeth are untreated cavities, gum disease and mouth injuries.
If you suspect that you have an abscessed tooth, it’s vital that you seek treatment immediately to prevent the infection from spreading or worsening.
Stages of Tooth Abscesses
Abscesses don’t always start painfully, but they can gradually become worse over time. If you have a dental abscess, the infection will proceed in three stages.
1. Tooth Decay
In stage one, your tooth will experience decay in three different areas:
- Enamel: You’ll first experience enamel erosion, or damage to the protective outer layer of the teeth. Though enamel decay doesn’t always come with symptoms, you may experience increased tooth sensitivity or white spots on the surface of the teeth.
- Dentin: If left to progress, the tooth decay also causes damage beneath the enamel to a layer called dentin. Dentin decay sometimes results in tooth pain or sensitivity but can also create a physical hole in the tooth.
- Pulp: When bacteria enter the innermost layer of the tooth where the main nerve is located, pulp decay occurs. In this stage, the bacteria can attack the tooth’s nerve and cause significant pain (termed “pulpitis”), though this pain may not persist.
2. Abscess Formation
After the bacteria penetrates the tooth pulp, the tooth’s nerve can die, at which point an abscess begins to form. During this stage, you may notice gum inflammation and swelling (often seen as a “bump” on the gums), along with pain near the afflicted tooth.
There are many home remedies and other measures you can take to reduce abscess pain and sensitivity until definitive treatment can be performed:
- Avoid hot and cold food and beverages.
- When eating, chew on the opposite side of the infected tooth.
- Put a cold pack over your jaw.
- Unless contraindicated, use over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for pain relief.
If you don’t receive treatment for your abscessed tooth, the bacteria may spread to the bloodstream and result in a life-threatening infection called sepsis. If you experience any of the following symptoms of sepsis, it’s crucial to seek help immediately:
- Fever or chills
- Increased heartbeat
- Slurred speech
- Cold, clammy skin
- Muscle pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
How Tooth Abscesses Are Treated
When you reach out to a dental professional to treat your abscessed tooth, you’ll likely receive one of these standard procedures:
- Abscess draining: The doctor will drain the abscess, clean the periodontal pocket and smooth the roots to help the tooth heal.
- Root canal: This procedure involves drilling into the tooth to drain the pus and removing any damaged tissue from the pulp. The doctor will then sterilize and fill the area where the damage occurred to save the infected tooth and prevent future infections.
- Extraction: In cases where the abscess is too large for doctors to save the contaminated tooth, or where patients do not want to proceed with a root canal, they will perform a tooth extraction to remove it completely.
- Antibiotics: Depending on the severity of the infection, antibiotics may or may not be indicated to help treat the infected tooth. If prescribed, it is important to understand that the antibiotics are a temporary measure – if the source of the infection is not addressed with one of the above methods, the infection is likely to reoccur over time.
Treat Your Abscessed Tooth at Dental Choice Today
If you have a tooth abscess, call Dental Choice for professional assistance. We strive to provide reliable dental services at affordable prices, and we do our best to get patients in quickly and easily so you can get back to business as ususal. Request an appointment today!
Dr. Emily Ervin is a dentist with Dental Choice.
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