Have you been avoiding sensitive spots when you’re brushing your teeth? Do your gums appear redder than usual, or are your jaw and cheeks swollen? Are you experiencing intense and unrelenting pain in your mouth? All these problems may be symptoms of a tooth abscess.
A tooth abscess (or dental abscess) is a pocket of pus (thick fluid made up of white blood cells, cellular debris, and dead tissue) in a tooth that is caused by bacterial infection. Tooth decay, a cracked tooth, or periodontal disease (gum disease) can all trigger the infection.
There are two types of tooth abscesses. Periapical abscesses, the most common, develop at the tip of a tooth’s root. Periodontal abscesses occur on a root’s side, in the gums. Both types cause inflammation and pain. And if an abscessed tooth goes untreated, serious infection in the teeth, jawbone, and surrounding tissues can result.
An abscessed tooth won’t go away on its own. Even if an abscess ruptures on its own, dental treatment is needed to eliminate the presence and spread of infection. Recognizing abscessed tooth symptoms is critical for getting the care you need in time to keep this common oral health problem from becoming even worse.
Dental patients often wonder whether certain risk factors lead to a tooth abscess forming.
The answer is yes. Any of the following factors can put people at greater risk of tooth infection:
Neglecting to take proper, routine care of the teeth and gums increases the risk of not only a tooth abscess but also tooth decay, periodontal disease (gum disease), and other problems. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing regularly is critical to the best oral health outcomes.
Diets high in sugary foods and drinks heighten the risk of dental caries (tooth decay or cavities)—the world’s most common noncommunicable disease. Bacteria on the teeth (plaque) metabolize sugars, producing acid that dissolves tooth enamel over time. This decay can result in dental abscesses.
“Many people, young and old, take medications that cause dry mouth,” said Deanne Wallaert, a public health dental hygiene practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, “and that puts them at an increased risk of getting cavities because of that lack of saliva.” Again, increased risk for tooth decay can mean an increased risk for abscesses.
Some visible signs can indicate a tooth abscess. Reddening of the gums can be an indicator, as can swelling, with accompanying tenderness, of the jaw, face, and/or cheek.
But tooth abscess symptoms include not only what you can see but what you can feel. These sensations include:
Typically, an abscessed tooth’s symptoms start as soreness and swelling. Over time, they worsen. Left untreated, the bacterial infection that caused the abscess can spread.
If the pain, swelling, and tenderness in your jaw, face, or cheek are severe or worsen, or if you have a fever, the infection may be spreading. Once the infection has spread, the loss of a tooth or more serious complications can result.
If you’re seeing or feeling any tooth abscess symptoms, schedule an appointment with your dentist or endodontist (a dental specialist who focuses on tooth pain and treatment) as soon as possible. Early intervention can often save your tooth, relieve your pain almost immediately, and prevent more serious conditions from developing.
Depending on the severity of your abscessed tooth, your endodontist will likely recommend either a nonsurgical root canal treatment or endodontic surgery.
During a nonsurgical root canal procedure, the endodontist removes the tooth’s interior pulp (the mass of blood vessels and nerves at the tooth’s center), disinfects and shapes the canals inside the tooth’s root (the portion of the tooth below the gums), then fills and seals them.
Several endodontic surgical procedures can save a tooth when nonsurgical root canal treatment isn’t an option. The most common is an apicoectomy, or root-end resection. In this procedure, the endodontist opens the gum around the tooth to see the bone beneath, removes inflamed or infected tissue and the tip of the root, and fills and seals the canal’s end.
At Penn Dental Family Practice (PDFP), we possess the specialized knowledge and skills needed to not only treat but also help you prevent serious tooth decay and dental abscesses.
When you’re a PDFP patient, you can count on getting attentive and respectful care that relies on state-of-the-art techniques and materials. For example, our endodontists use microscope technology to provide the most precise diagnosis and treatment possible.
Considering root canal treatment is no longer the painful procedure it once was, we are able to treat most PDFP patients quickly and comfortably, with no more discomfort than a dental filling involves.
If you’re experiencing abscess tooth symptoms, don’t wait to get the treatment and relief you deserve. Schedule your appointment online now, or call us at 215-898-PDFP (7337).