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All About Dental Abscesses

A dental abscess is an accumulation of pus inside a tooth, in the gums, and/or in the bone that holds the teeth in place. Ugg! How unpleasant and yet anyone can have an abscess, from children to the elderly. 

Types of abscesses: 

There are two main types of dental abscesses: 

  • Periapical abscess: the most common type, occurs at the root of a tooth and is caused by an infection that has spread from a decaying tooth
  • Periodontal abscess: occurs in the gums and happens when gum pockets trap food and bacteria leading to infection

How does an abscess begin?

There are many factors that contribute to the formation of a dental abscess:

  • Poor oral hygiene: insufficient brushing leads to erosion of tooth enamel resulting in a cavity allowing bacteria to penetrate and cause infection
  • Trauma to a tooth: causing damage and allowing bacteria to enter
  • Unchecked gum disease: leading to bacterial infection
  • Consuming sugary and starchy foods and drinks: encourages formation of plaque leading to tooth decay
  • Previous dental surgery: bacteria can penetrate a tooth through a crown or a filling that is too close to the dentin
  • A weakened immune system: renders your body less able to counteract infection
  • Dry mouth: increases the risk of tooth decay

What are the symptoms of an abscess?

There are many signs and symptoms that point to the possibility that you may have an abscess.

  • Pain – when touching the area or when biting – can be intense, throbbing and/or radiate to the ear, jaw and neck. 
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under the jaw
  • Sensitivity to cold or hot foods and drinks
  • A bad taste in the mouth or persistent bad breath
  • A discoloured or loose tooth
  • Red and swollen gums
  • Fever
  • Redness and swelling of the face
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Disruption of sleep – the pain intensifies when lying down
  • No symptoms at all! In rare occasions an abscess is found only when dental x-rays are taken

How do you treat an abscess? 

There are several options for treatment depending on the type of abscess you have and the severity of the bacterial infection.

  • Incision and drainage: a temporary treatment in which a small cut is made in the gum for drainage
  • Root canal: a hole is drilled in the tooth for drainage, damaged tissue is removed, and a root filling is inserted
  • Extraction: tooth is removed, usually when a root canal is not possible
  • Antibiotics: if the infection has spread to the jaw or into the body
  • Surgery: usually for a periodontal abscess – involves drainage, scaling and planning below the gum line, removal of the gum pocket and/or reshaping of the gum tissue

How to handle the pain of an abscess:

While you wait for dental treatment for your abscess, try the following tips for pain control:

  • Avoid hot and cold foods and drinks
  • Take over the counter pain medication
  • Eat soft, cool foods and chew on the opposite side of your mouth
  • Avoid flossing around the affected area
  • Use a soft bristled toothbrush
  • Rinse your mouth 2 or 3 times a day with a salt solution made with ½ tsp salt in 8 oz. of water

How to prevent an abscess:

No need to worry! There are many things you can do to reduce the possibility of developing an abscess.

  • Brush twice a day with a soft bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste.  Change your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months as new bristles remove plaque more efficiently. 
  • Floss daily 
  • Use a fluoride mouthwash
  • Use a straw to keep acidic and sweet beverages away from your teeth
  • Snack wisely: Try an apple or sugar free gum (the sweetener, xylitol, fights bacteria). Sip on green or black tea as they inhibit bacteria and slow plaque growth. 
  • Act after you snack: Drink water, brush your teeth or chew sugarless gum after snacking 
  • Ask your dentist about sealants: a plastic material painted on vulnerable teeth as a barrier to protect against bacteria and acid
  • See your dentist regularly: She can detect and assist with decay before it becomes an abscess.

A dental abscess doesn’t go away on its own! If left unchecked, the infection can spread to other parts of your body. If you have any symptoms of an abscess, see your dentist. She can stop the infection, repair the damage, and help you avoid severe complications. 

If you think you have a dental abscess or you want advice on how to prevent tooth decay, call Centennial Smiles at (587) 317-7959.

New Patients: (587) 317-7959
Existing Patients: (587) 353-5060
Email: info@centennialsmiles.ca

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