How to Know When an Abscessed Tooth Becomes an Emergency

What causes an abscessed tooth and how can you deal with each stage? Can it be treated at home? When should you come in for emergency care? Our Edmonton dentists answer these questions and more. 

What is an abscessed tooth?

An abscessed tooth is a type of dental abscess that can develop as a result of bacterial infection. A pocket of pus forms, leading to moderate or severe pain that may even reach your ear or neck. 

A tooth abscess can develop in different parts of a tooth and become serious or even life-threatening if left untreated. The clinical term for infection at the tip of a tooth root is called a periapical abscess. When the abscess is located in the gums, usually near the side of the tooth, this is considered a periodontal abscess.

The underlying cause of the abscess depends on where bacteria have entered. With a periapical abscess, bacteria enter tooth pulp - the soft, inner part of the tooth that's made of connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves - usually through a cavity. 

What are abscessed tooth symptoms?

An abscessed tooth will have some distinct symptoms, including a throbbing pain in or around your tooth or in your gums. The pain occurs suddenly and gradually worsens, and can quickly become a dental emergency. 

Many people wonder what an abscessed tooth looks like. Many identifying visual cues can be found in this list of symptoms:

  • Redness or swelling in the face
  • Fever
  • Pain when biting or chewing
  • Bad breath
  • Pain that worsens when you lie down
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Loose or discoloured teeth
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • Pain that radiates to your jaw, ear or neck 

If an abscess ruptures, you'll feel almost immediate relief from pain and may have a sudden bad taste in your mouth as the pus drains. 

When is a tooth abscess an emergency?

Whether the pain is dull or sharp, contact us as soon as possible if the ache is consistent and severe enough that you are not able to function effectively. If you have a high fever, facial swelling, confusion, rapid heart rate or difficulty swallowing, this would be considered a dire dental emergency. 

Are there potential complications?

Any abscessed tooth symptoms should be treated by a dentist. Even if the abscess has ruptured, you should come in as soon as possible to have the area examined and cleaned by a dentist to prevent the infection from spreading. 

An untreated infection can spread to your jaw and other parts of the neck and head, including the brain. Rarely, it can even lead to sepsis, a life-threatening complication that can result from infection. 

How do our dentists treat a tooth abscess?

When we treat an abscessed tooth and its symptoms, we focus on clearing up infection and providing pain relief. Your symptoms will determine the course of treatment, but a dental X-ray will be taken if required and to find out if the infection has spread to other areas. 

Depending on the type and severity of the dental abscess, treatment options can include:

  • Draining - The dentist will cut into the abscess to drain the pus, then use a saline solution to clean the area. 
  • Root Canal - The abscess will be drained from the affected tooth before infected pulp is removed. The pulp chamber and root canal will then be filled and sealed before a crown is placed on top of the tooth to strengthen it. The crown procedure is typically done in a second appointment. 
  • Tooth Extraction - The dentist may need to extract your tooth before the abscess is drained if the tooth is too severely damaged to be repaired.
  • Antibiotics - If the infection has spread to other areas of your mouth or your immune system is weakened, your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics to help treat the infection. 

As for at-home remedies, if you aren't able to see your dentist right away, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may help alleviate some pain. Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water may help with any bad taste.

With proper treatment, an abscessed tooth should clear up within a few days. Remember to follow up with your dentist to confirm the infection hasn't spread to another area, even if the abscess seems to drain on its own. 

By practicing good oral hygiene and seeing your dentist for regular checkups every six months, you can reduce your risk of suffering from a tooth abscess.

Do you have a tooth abscess, or are you experiencing another dental emergency? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can make room in our schedule to see you 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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