Abscessed Tooth

What is an abscessed tooth?

When a person has tooth decay, there is a strong possibility that an infection can spread deep within the tooth, or in severe cases, even within the gum. This infection of the tooth is called an abscessed tooth, and it can be very painful. If the abscessed tooth is left untreated, the infection can spread throughout the tooth and one can lose their tooth in this way. It can also lead to other general health problems.

What causes an abscessed tooth?

Damage to the tooth, an untreated cavity, or gum disease can cause an abscessed tooth.

If a cavity is not treated, the inside of the tooth (called the pulp) can become infected. Bacteria can spread from the tooth to the tissue around it, creating an abscess.

Gum disease causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets. If food builds up in one of these pockets, bacteria can grow, and an abscess can form. Over time an abscess can cause the bone around the tooth to dissolve.

What are the symptoms of an abscessed tooth?

You may have:

  • Throbbing pain, especially when you chew.
  • Red, swollen gums.
  • A bad, salty taste in your mouth.
  • Swelling in your jaw or face.
  • A fever.
  • A bump (gumboil) that looks like a pimple on the cheek side or tongue side of the gum near the tooth.
  • A tooth that is very tender or sore to the touch.

Over time as the infection spreads, the bone in your jaw may begin to dissolve. When this happens, you may feel less pain, but the infection will remain. If you lose too much bone, your tooth will become loose and may have to be removed.

If you have a severe toothache, have swelling of the gums or face, or notice drainage of pus, call your dentist right away. You may have an abscessed tooth. If it is not treated, the infection could spread and become dangerous.

How is an abscessed tooth treated?

If you have an abscessed tooth, your dentist may give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria that is causing the infection. Antibiotics may help for a while. But to get rid of the abscess, your dentist will need to get rid off the source of infection. This is done by making a hole in the tooth or gum to drain the infection. Usually this will relieve your pain.

If the inside of your tooth is infected, you will need a root canal. Or you will need to have the tooth removed. A root canal tries to save your tooth by taking out the infected pulp. If you don’t want a root canal or if you have one done and it doesn’t work, the dentist may have to remove your tooth. You and your doctor can decide what is best.

You may be able to reduce pain and swelling from an abscessed tooth by putting an ice pack wrapped in a towel against your cheek. You can also try over-the-counter pain medicine, including aspirin, acetaminophen (such as: Tylenol), or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin). But you still need to see your dentist for treatment.

How can you prevent an abscessed tooth?

You can prevent an abscessed tooth by preventing bacterial infections in your mouth. The best way to do that is to take good care of your teeth and gums:

  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day, in the morning and at night, with toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association.
  • Use dental floss to clean between your teeth every day.
  • See your dentist for regular dental cleanings and checkups.
  • Eat a healthy diet, and limit between-meal snacks.

Some people have a very dry mouth. This can cause deep dental cavities to form quickly, which can infect the pulp of a tooth and lead to an abscess. You may be able to prevent these problems by taking frequent sips of water, chewing gum, or sucking on sugarless candy. If you have severe dry mouth symptoms, you may need to take medicine to treat the problem.

Many medicines can cause a dry mouth, including some medicines used to treat depression and high blood pressure.