If a tooth continues to throb and the pain keeps you up at night then it is likely something worse than just the average toothache. An abscessed tooth is a form of infection within the tooth that spreads around or into the root. The infection comes from the inner chamber of the tooth, known as the “pulp chamber”. The pulp chamber contains blood vessels and nerves, known as “pulp”.
Before an abscess is formed, the tooth essentially loses all ability to keep infection at bay, allowing bacteria to invade the pulp chamber. As bacteria multiplies, it spreads the infection from the pulp chamber, passing under the chamber and into the bone through the root. The abscess is formed by pus made from dead white blood cells, bacteria, and tissue debris.
A tooth abscess is not the same as a gum abscess because the original infection has a different source. A tooth abscess – also known as a periapical abscess – is formed n the pulp of the tooth and spreads out from the apex of the bottom of the root. A gum abscess – also known as a periodontal abscess – begins in the gum next to the root.
Symptoms and Signs
Being able to recognise and understand the signs and symptoms of an abscessed tooth is important. Catching abscessed teeth early ensures that your oral health is minimally damaged. Here is a list of the signs and symptoms associated with abscessed teeth. Talk to your dentist if you notice any of these:
- Sharp shooting and throbbing pains that won’t disappear
- Severe tooth pain in other areas of the mouth
- Unexpected, random fevers or abnormally high body temperatures
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Halitosis/bad breath
- Swollen neck glands
- Teeth becoming sensitive to temperature
- Swollen and red gums
- Swelling in the upper or lower areas of the jaw
- Draining, open sores to the side of gums
- Pain while speaking, chewing, or generally moving your mouth and jaw
- Direct pain or aching feelings in the bone around a particular tooth
- Feelings of illness or uneasiness
- Constant general discomfort in the mouth
- Teeth turn darker than the surrounding teeth
If you notice any of these symptoms, no matter how many of them you are experiencing, then it’s important you see your dentist as soon as possible.
You should also note that there may be no symptoms associated with your abscessed tooth. Given that the tooth loses vitality and is unable to feel stimuli, there is the chance that it won’t even be painful. Even so, there is still an abscess there and it still runs the risk of spreading the infection. There are cases where an abscessed tooth is detected during routine exams when patients have yet to experience the common symptoms of the problem.
When Should You See an Emergency Dentist
If you do notice the symptoms of an abscessed tooth, but you aren’t able to see your regular dentist any time soon, then you will have to find an emergency dentist who can assist you. The most important symptoms to pay attention to are fever, facial swelling, and trouble breathing or swallowing. The symptoms are an indication that the infection is spreading deeper into the surrounding tissue and may be spreading around your body.
Common Causes of Abscessed Teeth
There are several potential causes of a tooth to become abscessed over time. Abscess growth varies depending on the damage done and it’s hard to predict what will happen.
The Root Cause of the Problem
An abscessed tooth is likely caused by tooth decay forming over time to the point of high severity. Tooth damage, such as chips and fractures, are another cause of problems with oral health. Realistically, any trauma to teeth can cause an abscess if they aren’t treated.
Periodontal diseases, gum disease, and gingivitis are also other causes of a tooth developing an abscess. If one of these problems is left untreated for too long, the infection spreads and develops.
The Infection Invades
After the foundation has been laid, the infection sets in and starts to fester. A broken tooth generally causes openings around the tooth itself and tooth enamel. Bacteria can then infect the center of the tooth, known as the pulp.
If this infection isn’t taken care of, it spreads from the pulp, down into the root of the tooth, spreading further into the bones supporting the individual tooth.
However, the infection doesn’t end here. It keeps spreading and rampaging through the rest of the mouth.
There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing a tooth abscess:
Poor dental hygiene
Failing to take care of your teeth and gums, such as by not brushing and flossing, increases your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, tooth abscesses, and other dental and mouth problems.
Eating and drinking sugar-rich foods like sweets and sodas contributes to cavities that then become tooth abscesses.
What to Expect With an Abscessed Tooth
You can tell some things to happen when you have an abscessed tooth based on the signs and symptoms of the issue. While an abscess may not always have the same symptoms, many cases present with one or two of them.
However, two symptoms are always seen with an abscessed tooth are pain and swelling. You will be left managing the pain by yourself until you get some help from your dentist and book an appointment about the tooth.
Home Remedies for Abscessed Tooth
The first thing to notice is that you need to avoid very hot or cold food and drinks because the infection invades the dentin layer of the tooth. Cold drinks, ice cream, tea, coffee, hot soup, and other such things cause pain because of the extreme temperatures. Also avoid acidic and sugary drinks and food.
Use warm salt water to rinse out your mouth up to three times a day to remove bacteria from the infected area and ease pain. What’s interesting is that salt water is a great home remedy antiseptic for oral bacterial infections.
Over-the-counter medicine such as Ibuprofen for relieving pain is going to be a great friend during your time with a tooth abscess. Given that an abscessed tooth causes inflammation and swelling, ask your pharmacist or doctor if pain relief medication may reduce inflammation.
Garlic is one of the best natural bacteria killers, particularly juice from raw garlic cloves. Squeeze and crush a few cloves of garlic, dab the juice into your finger, and apply it to infected areas. Clove oil is also good for this.
Herbal tea bags offer another great way to relieve pain. Steep the tea bag, take it out of the cup of water, and gently hold it against the infected area.
Finally, if the pain and swelling aren’t too bad, then try to floss gently in the infected area. While this sounds risky and painful, it shouldn’t be too bad as long as the infection isn’t too bad and it should do some good. Eliminating food particles and plaque to ensure the area doesn’t get irritated and become even more inflamed.
What Happens if the Abscess is Left Untreated
If an abscessed tooth is left it will fester and spread quickly, damaging the rest of the mouth. This particularly damages the surrounding teeth and bone.
The Dangers of Leaving Oral Abscess Untreated
As is the case with any infection, leaving it untreated will lead to even more damage. A hollow tunnel may form through the skin and bone to allow pus to drain. This is known as a fistula or sinus tract, and it may be possible to feel it or even see it through the mouth opening.
You’ll be able to tell that such a tunnel has formed even if you aren’t able to see it, because the pus draining from it causes a strange taste. It can look like a pimple. While it might sound good that the pus is being drained, don’t forget that the original infection is still present.
Cysts, which are bubbles filled with liquids, can form in the jawbone if infections are left untreated. If the tooth must be removed during treatment as it can’t be saved, then the cyst might come out while the tooth is being extracted.
Potential Physical Damage
As discussed earlier, abscessed teeth are a prime example of how dental health can affect the overall body and health. The infection happens at a prime location for it to spread elsewhere. Here are some prime examples of how the abscessed tooth can impair your health if left untreated:
- Escape to the brain through the blood vessels, causing a brain abscess that increases the risk of patients going into comas.
- Spread into sinuses and cause infections
- Spread into the heart and cause conditions such as bacterial endocarditis
- Cause Ludwig’s angina and restrict the airways to infect the entire face
- Impair the ability to breathe when the infection spreads to the neck and floor of the mouth, restricting the airway
- Inflammation in the body that potentially causes strokes and cardiovascular disease
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) from teeth loss caused by the infection and difficulty chewing and digesting properly
- Diabetes complications caused by a weakened control over blood sugar, leading to high blood sugar levels
- Contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease due to inflammation caused by the infection travelling through blood vessels
- Interfering with the development of a fetus, causing low birth weight and premature birth in women with the infection
Unfortunately these represent only a few examples of what oral infections can do to physical health if left untreated.
Abscessed Tooth Treatments
A dentist will examine the infected area to determine the severity of the infection. From her, they may have to perform an X-ray to locate other, smaller abscesses inside the infected tooth. If the dentist is unable to diagnose the abscessed tooth by themselves, they will likely send you to an orthodontist trained to work with abscessed teeth. They will be able to tell you if you have abscess and what you can do if you have one.
The usual treatment for abscessed adult teeth is to clear out the infection. The treatment depends on the spread o the infection. This treatment plan typically involves the use of oral antibiotics like penicillin. The tooth will be opened up to remove the infection in the pulp chamber. If necessary, an incision will be made with the pus drained from the soft tissue to eliminate pus and reduce the pressure of the infection.
The tooth can be restored after the infection has been cleared. From here the dentist performs a root canal. This treatment cleans the tooth chamber (inner space) of the tooth and the canals, using a rubber material known as gutta percha to seal the space. Cleaning and sealing this inner space protects the tooth from being infected further. There is a chance the tooth has to be extracted if the tooth structure or bone surrounding the tooth has been damaged too much by the infection.
There’s not much that will allow for baby teeth to be saved when they become abscessed. The best treatment option is to extract the tooth. The infection is more advanced in an abscessed primary tooth so it becomes impossible to completely remove it. Completely removing the tooth is the only way to ensure the infection doesn’t spread and risk damaging the adult tooth being formed underneath. Oral antiiotics may be needed depending on how severe the infection is.
Dental abscesses during pregnancy must be performed immediately to minimize the risk of the infection spreading. The potential risk of infection during pregnancy is concerning because they may be more severe for pregnant women and could potentially harm the fetus.
Understanding and Dealing with Abscessed Teeth
A tooth abscess will never go away without being treated. If the abscess is ruptured, the pain can decrease, but there is still a need for dental treatment. If the abscess doesn’t drain, then the infection can spread to the jaw and other parts of the head and neck. You could potentially develop sepsis. This is a very dangerous infection that can spread through the whole body.
If your immune system is weakened and you don’t treat the tooth abscess, then you have an even greater risk of the infection spreading.
Can They be Prevented?
Taking care of your teeth and visiting the dentist regularly can help prevent abscessed teeth. Time is another factor in deciding if the tooth abscess reaches the point of becoming infected. The more time the tooth is left, the higher the chance an infection will occur and spread to become abscessed. After a decayed, fractured, or sensitive tooth has been noticed, taking preventative measures to fix it early can prevent bigger problems like abscessed teeth.
Here are some simple steps to keeping teeth and gums healthy:
- Visit the dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings
- Brush teeth twice a day for two minutes using fluoride toothpaste
- Replace your toothbrush every three or four months or when you notice frayed bristles
- Floss regularly to keep the spots between teeth and gums clean
- Visit the dentist as soon as you notice loose and cracked teeth
- Consider an antiseptic or fluoride mouth rinse to further protect against tooth decay
- Cut down on sugary foods and drinks. Sugary sweets and sodas can cause cavities, which can become an abscess
- Reduce snacking between meals