Tooth Abscess Can Often Lead to a Trip to the Emergency Dentist

The painful symptoms of a tooth abscess are generally caused by the body trying to flush away harmful bacteria, bacteria that are usually trapped in a pocket in or around the tooth. Essentially, an abscess is a highly alkaline pus-filled swelling composed of white blood cells that work to isolate accumulating dead material in order to expel it away from the bloodstream, via drainage into the mouth. The swelling in the gum is actually a result of the body’s protective mechanisms working at a healthy capacity. In fact, a tooth abscess can go untreated for years, as long as the body’s immune system is able to continue to work to protect it, however, bone around the infection will likely disintegrate in the process.


What is a tooth abscess?

This is an abscess on your tooth

Most commonly caused by dental decay, untreated gingivitis or gum disease, an abscessed tooth is a painful infection that is best avoided by following a strict oral health routine that includes brushing, flossing and regular checkups. In addition to decay, tooth abscesses can also be caused by trauma or injury to the teeth or gums all of which can lead to a break in the enamel of the tooth where bacteria can enter, eventually infecting the pulp of the tooth, the gums and even surrounding teeth and facial bones. At the most critical level, a tooth abscess can spread throughout the soft tissue of the face and cause something called cellulitis, or dramatic swelling of the face and neck. As the infection spreads it can reach a critical level leading to breathing difficulties and problems opening the mouth. As with any medical situation, an abscess is a swelling that has become filled with bacteria forming pus. There are three basic types of dental abscesses including; A gum or gingival abscess culminating from injury or infection at the surface of the gum tissue. A prolonged oral infection can migrate deep into gum pockets, where drainage of pus is blocked leading to periodontal abscess. In a tooth where the pulp itself is infected a periapical abscess can occur. Abscesses can happen suddenly or gradually, simply appearing without any signs or symptoms. First symptoms usually include swelling in gums, loosening of the tooth and sensitivity when chewing. Pressure on the area may bring forth pus combined with a constant dull throbbing pain. A periodontal abscess can also create overall feelings of sickness, fever, as well as swollen lymph glands in the neck. Conversely, in some cases, prolonged infection may produce no outward signs or symptoms. Long term or chronic infections of the jaw caused by tooth abscess can cause extensive damage to the bone structure and the immune system over time.

Tooth Abscess Symptoms:

There are a number of symptoms in which severity may vary. Some of them include:
  • tooth pain
  • sensitivity to temperature changes
  • bitter taste
  • unpleasant breath, halitosis
  • swollen glands of the neck
  • painful chewing
  • upper or lower jaw swelling
An abscessed tooth infection can eventually spread to areas throughout the mouth and cause extensive tooth loss, or compromise the body’s ability to ward off infection altogether - and although rare, may become life threatening.

Causes of Tooth Abscess

A gum abscess – results from irritation usually due to foreign objects. Gum abscesses can stem from ordinary trauma caused by toothpicks or chewing hard food which create an abrasion in the surface of the gum where bacteria can proliferate, leading to a localized infection. This type of infection usually appears red and swollen. As the infection advances, the area will develop a lesion that will eventually rupture, releasing pus into the oral cavity. A periodontal abscess - a gum pocket develops where food particles build up, resulting in a proliferation of plaque and tartar. If food particles are not removed daily, harmful bacteria will flourish, eventually triggering the body's immune system and manifesting as an infection in the gum area. A periapical abscess - caused by damage to the nerve of the tooth will present along with swelling, pain, reddening of the gums, and sensitivity to chewing and/or hot or cold. This type of tooth abscess usually appears as a deep cavity in the tooth. Symptoms include; fever, lack of energy and swelling in the neck. In the worst case scenario, a fistula (a tube-like passage from the abscess to the surface of the gums) may form to allow fluids to be released into the surrounding tissues, resulting in an infection called cellulitis. Fever, chills, and lack of appetite increase as the infection worsens.

Bacteria Flourish in a Tooth Abscess

abscess on your gum

This is a gingival abscess

Curiously, the same bacteria found in tooth decay are also known to be beneficial or benign bacteria existing naturally in the gut, including streptococcus and lactobacillus. Studies have shown several additional types of bacteria known to be harmful to various systems and organs of the body are found at various stages of gum disease including:
  • Bacteroides
  • Actinobacillus
  • Actinomyces
  • Capnocytophaga
  • Treponema

Treatment for an Abscessed Tooth

When suffering from a suspected tooth abscess it is advisable to make an appointment to see your dentist immediately. There are several suggestions for alleviating symptoms in the meantime including:
  • Over-the-counter pain relief medication such as Ibuprofen will help with pain
  • Swishing with warm salt water or flushing the area with diluted hydrogen peroxide mixed with water helps to remove toxins and relieve pain
  • Cloves or clove oil placed on or near the abscess may help relieve pain and reduce swelling
  • Prickly Ash Bark can be used to numb sensitive areas of the mouth
  • Golden Seal Powder placed on the affected area helps to reduce infections
  • Swishing good quality olive oil, sesame oil or coconut oil in the mouth for 5-10 minutes at a time will remove toxins from your teeth and gums
At the dentist’s office an X-ray is usually performed as part of the exam to determine exactly what type of abscess or infection is present. Treatment is prescribed based on the health of the patient and the severity of the infection. If you think you have an abscess, give us a call. We are open 24 hours a day in San Diego, so we can help you out. Most patients leave the office without paying more than $450 for EVERYTHING, so it's some of the best, most affordable care you can get when you have a toothache (or, in this case, an abscess). Call today: 619-342-3577

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