Dental Fistula: What is it?

What is a dental (oral) fistula and what are some potential causes and symptoms? Our Edmonton dentists discuss how fistulas are linked to dental abscesses and how we approach treating them. 

What is a dental fistula?

If you've got a severe toothache, you may hear your dentist discuss many terms and potential causes, including abscesses and dental fistulas (or oral fistulas). 

Concerned patients often ask us, "What is a fistula in the mouth?". Since this condition may sound a bit scary and mysterious, we'll explain everything you need to know in today's post.

A dental fistula is a new, abnormal pathway that can develop under the gumline to drain infection that's resulted from an abscess. An abscess forms when bacteria infect parts of the tooth and gum, which become filled with pus. 

If you have an abscess or dental fistula, this is considered a dental emergency as it can cause many issues for your overall and overall health. One of our Edmonton dentists can treat your abscess or fistula right away. 

Potential Causes of a Dental Fistula

A dental abscess often produces discharge, which can create pressure. If there's nowhere for the abscess to drain, an oral fistula can develop. 

Primary causes of dental abscesses and fistulas include:

  • Poor dental hygiene 
  • Previous dental treatment, such as a root canal procedure 
  • Injury 

People with dry mouth, improper dental hygiene routine or diets high in sugar are at higher risk of developing dental fistulas. 

Symptoms of an Oral Fistula 

While a dental or oral fistula may not be painful, the abscess itself may cause intermittent pain. We still recommend seeing one of our dentists to have both the abscess and fistula treated and prevent infection from worsening. 

Here are common signs and symptoms of a dental fistula:

  • Swelling 
  • Tooth sensitivity 
  • Fever 
  • Inflamed and enlarged nodes in the neck and jaw area
  • Discharge of pus in the mouth, sometimes with accompanied by an unpleasant taste 
  • Toothaches that may throb or radiate to the neck and ear 

You may also experience problems eating, swallowing and even breathing. If this happens, we recommend seeking immediate medical attention or calling 911. 

Treatment for Dental Fistulas at Emergency Dental Clinics 

Whether you suspect you have a dental fistula or are already certain you do, it's critical to see your dentist and have it treated as soon as possible. If the abscess is left untreated, infection can spread and lead to severe, life-threatening complications. Early treatment can encourage faster healing and prevent the need for more invasive medical procedures. 

Abscesses in the teeth and gums cause dental fistulas. There isn't much you can do at home to treat these directly. Treating the oral fistula may also help to resolve the underlying causes of the infection. 

Treatment for a dental abscess may involve:

  • Extraction of the infected tooth 
  • Draining the area of infection 
  • Root canal 
  • Effects of an antibiotic to treat the cause of infection 

You might also consider home therapies to decrease pain due to the abscess or fistula:

  • Apply a cold compress to the painful area of the cheek 
  • Gently follow your normal oral hygiene routine 
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief medications prescribed by your doctor 
  • Rinse your mouth with lukewarm saltwater

Preventing Dental Fistulas 

Take these measures to prevent a dental fistula:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, for two minutes each time. 
  • Floss once per day. 
  • Gargle with mouthwash after brushing your teeth. 
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoiding acidic or sugary foods. 
  • Chew sugar-free gum. 
  • Eat dairy products to aid saliva production. 
  • Schedule regular dental cleanings and checkups with your primary dentist 
  • Have any toothaches or other dental emergencies treated promptly. 

Are you experiencing pain or other symptoms of dry socket? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can examine the extraction area and recommend treatment options.

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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