A Toothache… Might be a Tooth Abscess


Patients may feel that their toothache is run-of-the-mill, however, if you have a severe, continuous toothache, you may have an abscessed tooth.

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that’s caused by a bacterial infection, usually occurring from an untreated dental cavity, injury, or prior dental work. In some cases, dentists will be able to save the tooth with a root canal treatment, but may need to be pulled depending on the condition of the tooth. Leaving an abscessed tooth untreated can lead to serious complications— a patient could even develop sepsis, a life threatening infection that spreads throughout the body. Patients with weakened immune systems are even more at risk for developing serious disorders from a tooth abscess.

The main symptom of a tooth abscess is a toothache, which could be described as gnawing, sharp, shooting, or throbbing. If you have a tooth abscess, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Severe/persistent/throbbing toothache

  • Sensitivity to pressure of chewing, biting, or hot and cold temperatures

  • Fever

  • Swelling the face or cheek—extremely serious symptom

  • Swollen glands under the jaw or neck

  • Foul-smelling or foul-tasting fluid in your mouth and pain relief if abscess ruptures

  • Breath odor

  • Bitter taste or pain when chewing

Sometimes, there will appear to be swelling of the gum over the infected tooth, which could look similar to a pimple. Poor dental hygiene and a diet high in sugar can increase your risk of tooth abscess. It’s important to remember to properly take care of your teeth and gums by brushing at least twice daily and flossing once per day. Frequently eating or drinking foods high with sugar can contribute to dental cavities that turn into a tooth abscess.

The goal of our treatment is to cure the infection, save the tooth, and prevent any complications.

To treat the infection, we will need to evaluate your condition by doing the following:

  • Tapping on your teeth: a tooth abscess at its root is generally sensitive to touch or pressure. This is how we find out which tooth the abscess is associated with.

  • X-ray: an X-ray of the aching tooth can help identify an abscess.

Treatment options include:

  • Draining the abscess: the dentist makes a small cut into the abscess, allowing pus to drain out, then wash the area with saline water.

  • Perform a root canal: this procedure can help eliminate the infection and save your tooth. To do this, the dentist drills down into your tooth, removes diseased pulp, and drains the abscess. Then the dentist seals the tooth’s pulp chamber and root canals, and caps with a crown.

  • Pull the affected tooth: in some cases, the tooth may not be able to be saved.

  • Prescribe antibiotics: if the infection is limited to the abscessed area, you might not need an antibiotic. But, if the infection has spread to nearby teeth or other areas, the dentist may prescribe antibiotics to keep the infection from spreading further.

Once you have the treatment, there are some small things you can to do help the infected area heal and to ease discomfort:

  • Rinse your mouth out with warm water

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers, like Tylenol or Advil, as needed

Once the treatment has healed it’s important to take care of your teeth to avoid another infection from occurring. Our suggestions are:

  • Brush teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste

  • Use dental floss daily

  • Replace your toothbrush head every three months

  • Eat a healthy diet, with limited sugar and in-between meal snacks

If you are having symptoms that correlate with a tooth abscess, it’s important to see a dentist right away. Contact our office to set up an appointment! Click here or call us at 239-936-0597.

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