Tooth Abscess: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

A tooth abscess can occur when a tooth is infected and will need urgent treatment from your dentist to prevent further complications. In this post, our Edmonton dentists explain what a tooth abscess is, common symptoms to watch for, and how it should be treated. 

What is a tooth abscess?

If a tooth becomes infected with bacteria, an abscess or pocket of pus can form around its root. This can happen in people of any age - children, adults or the elderly. An abscess can happen at the tip of the root (periapical), or in the gums at the side of a tooth root (periodontal). 

What causes an abscessed tooth?

While your tooth is hard on the outside, the inside is filled with pulp comprised of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. Sometimes it gets infected due to:

  • Tooth decay or a deep cavity 
  • Teeth grinding
  • Gum (periodontal) disease 
  • A cracked tooth

It's possible for more than one abscess to form, and an abscess can travel through the bone to appear in several other spots if not treated. However, each is related to only one tooth.

These issues are more likely to crop up if you don't brush your teeth at least twice a day or if your diet has a lot of sugar in it, since sugar helps bacteria multiply. This can lead to cavities and other oral health issues. 

What are abscessed tooth symptoms?'

In some cases, if you've got a tooth abscess you'll feel a sharp, throbbing pain in the area around the tooth (especially if pressure is applied), but not always. The infection might also spread to your jaw or other parts of your face. 

There may also be:

  • Redness in gums
  • Swelling 
  • Puffy gums
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Bad taste in mouth 
  • Bad smell when you chew with the affected tooth
  • Fever 
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures

A tooth abscess may also cause a small bump on the gums, similar to a pimple. If you apply pressure and liquid pus oozes out, this is a clear symptom of an abscessed tooth. The tooth will turn darker in colour compared to surrounding teeth, due to byproducts of necrotic pulp leaching into the porous tooth layer. 

If you notice swelling in your face and have a fever, or you are having problems breathing or swallowing, head to the emergency room - the infection may spread to other parts of your body. 

An abscess can form in a matter of a few days and last months or years, if not treated. 

Is a tooth abscess an emergency?

We strongly recommend seeing your dentist right away if you have symptoms listed above. An abscessed tooth is an important condition to have treated since there's a risk of the infection spreading to your jaw, or other parts of your neck or head. This is especially true for people with weakened immune systems, which will make it more difficult for your body to fight infections. 

How can a dentist diagnose and treat my abscessed tooth?

Your dentist can take a number of measures to find out if you have an abscessed tooth, including:

  • Taking an X-ray to identify whether the issue is an abscess or something else, and if it has spread to other areas of your mouth. 
  • Tap on your teeth. You'll feel pain in the infected tooth if there's an abscess there. 

If the dentist isn't able to diagnose the abscess, they will likely refer you to an endodontist, who will be able to diagnose the problem and treat the abscess. 

Treatment options may include antibiotics (if the infection has spread past the abscess site to your jaw or further into your body), a root canal, surgery to drain a periodontal abscess, or an extraction.

What to Do if a Dental Abscess Bursts on Its Own

If an abscess ruptures, your pain will ease but you'll still require treatment from a dentist or endodontist. Still call your dentist as soon as possible to find out when they can get you in. 

How to Prevent an Abscessed Tooth

While an abscessed tooth can be painful, take these measures to increase your chances of preventing one, and keeping your teeth and gums healthy:

  • Brush your teeth daily for 2 minutes each time, using a fluoride toothpaste. 
  • Floss once a day to clean hard-to-reach spots between your teeth. 
  • Limit sugary foods and drinks. Sugar can lead to cavities, which may cause an abscess. 
  • Cut down on desserts between meals. 
  • Visit the dentist regularly for dental checkups and teeth cleanings. 
  • If you have a loose or fractured tooth, make a dentist appointment as soon as possible.

Do you suspect you might have an abscessed tooth? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can make room in our schedule to see you in as soon as possible.

Have a dental emergency in Edmonton? We're here on weekends and after hours to help.

Dental emergencies always happen when you least expect them. Our friendly and experienced dental team is on call to assist you when you need us most.

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