Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 4 March 2021
What is a tooth abscess?
An abscess is a collection of pus that accumulates around an infected tooth’s root. It can affect people of all ages, young or old. Once an abscessed tooth develops, it is important to seek care from a dentist, as it will not heal on its own. If left untreated, the infection can spread into your jaw, neck, head, and surrounding body parts, affecting its normal function.
What Causes It?
The structure of your tooth has a hard outer shell with a soft inner pulp consisting of nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels. Infection can occur within this center pulp.
Infection can lead to the following:
- Tooth cavities or decay
- Periodontal disease – gum disease
- Broken cracked tooth that loses its structural integrity
If left untreated, the pulp can be so badly damaged that it dies and leads to the formation of an abscess. Two common types of abscesses exist:
- Periapical abscess: this forms at the tip of the root of a tooth
- Periodontal abscess: this affects the bone surrounding the tooth
It is possible to develop more than one abscess. On the other hand, if you have a singular abscess, this can also spread through the bone to surrounding structures and present in many places.
An abscess tooth can present itself in the following ways:
- Tooth pain
- Swelling of gums or cheeks
- Gum redness
- Foul taste in mouth
- Toothache when chewing
- Jaw pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing food or liquids
- Pus near tooth
An abscessed tooth may not always have any signs or symptoms. In cases like these, an X-ray could pick up these cases incidentally.
Some treatments include:
Antibiotics: This is used for cases where the infection has spread to other parts of the body. It doesn’t cure the abscess, but slows down infection.
Root canal: This is a common treatment and the best way to save the tooth. A drill will be inserted into the tooth to create a hole, the pulp and root canal is then meticulously cleaned. The hole and spaces created are then sealed and a crown or filling will be placed at the top of the tooth. The tooth will function like other healthy teeth.
Surgery: This is for more severe periodontal abscesses in which drainage is required.
Extraction: This is usually a last resort treatment, if all other treatment plans fail.
If the abscess ruptures and releases the trapped pus, the pain that is felt will subside, however the root cause must still be treated by the dentist.
Can It Be Prevented?
There are easy steps in place to ensure healthy and normal functioning teeth and gums:
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups and dental cleaning
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes
- Floss daily
- Seek dentist help if you have a cracked or loose tooth
- Maintain a healthy diet and reduce amounts of sweet foods and drinks that can increase the risk of cavities
Referenced on 2.3.2021:
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: “Guideline on Use of Antibiotic Therapy for Pediatric Dental Procedures.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Tooth abscess: Diagnosis & treatment,” “Tooth abscess: Symptoms & causes.”
- American Association of Endodontists: “Abscessed Teeth.”
- Edmond Hewlett, DDS, professor, associate dean for outreach and diversity, UCLA.
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: “Periodontal Abscess: A Review.”
- Rico Short, DMD, Apex Endodontics, Smyrna, GA.
- American Dental Association: “Abscess (Toothache).”
- Journal of the Canadian Dental Association: “How Do I Manage a Patient with Periodontal Abscess?”
- NHS Choices: “Dental Abscess.”