There are fewer things worse in life than a painful, throbbing cavity. A severely abscessed tooth, however, is hands down one of them. The pain, swelling and overall discomfort is something that no one should have to deal with ever! Unfortunately, like many other dental maladies and conditions, abscesses are a part of life. The idea of practicing good oral hygiene is to make our encounters with abscesses of the teeth and gums, as few and far between as possible. While a typical abscess of your tooth or gum area may start off slowly; it can very swiftly pick up a head of steam. The infection can ravage your mouth and spread to other parts of the body. In certain cases, especially for those people who have compromised immune systems; what began as a “simple” abscessed tooth can turn into a deadly, life-threatening attack on your entire system. Infections from an abscessed tooth can, in very rare instances, spread to the brain.
In this article we will take a general look at dental abscesses and how you can treat them at home or on an emergency basis.
What is a dental abscess?
An abscess is a small pocket of pus (a thick, yellow unpleasant looking fluid), that is the result of an infection. By and large, abscesses infect the teeth or gums, but they have also been known to affect the jaw area, tongue, cheeks, throat and the face area. Swelling occurs on the face when the skin that is directly over the abscess becomes red and inflamed. The tooth where the infection is located can even become loose. It is fairly common for people with a serious abscess to run a fairly high fever and suffer nausea, flu-like chills and feel light headed. You can also develop a really bad taste in your mouth, which could be residue from the pus.
There is not one culprit who we can blame regarding conditions that can cause an abscess. While most abscesses are the result of severe tooth decay (our old ” friend”, the cavity), other causes include periodontal disease, trauma (severely cracked or chipped teeth can let the infection enter the pulp of your tooth) and extremely poor oral hygiene. When you don’t brush and floss on a regular basis, it sets the stage for some bad things to happen. Abscesses create openings in the tooth’s enamel, which allows the pus and bacteria to pass through the dentin and infect the pulp. The Pain that you feel from an abscess comes from the center of your tooth. The pain and throbbing is caused by your tissues becoming inflamed and also by a buildup of pressure within the area of the abscess. The entire area will usually swell up, if the infection spreads to your gum tissues.
There are two types of dental abscesses. Which one do you have? (hopefully, none!)
A Periodontal abscess looks rather like a boil on your gums. These abscesses develop from gum diseases, like Gingivitis, that have not been properly treated by a Dental professional. It usually starts in the supporting structures between the teeth and spreads into the gum tissues. Pockets of bacteria and germs form and eventually turn into a full-blown abscess. If particles of food get trapped between your teeth and are not removed by brushing and flossing, then the debris could become the trigger for an abscess.
A Periapical abscess is the most common type. They occur entirely inside the tooth structure. This kind of abscess shows up at the tip of your tooth’s root and then spreads like a spider web to the surrounding bone area. Cavities cause abscesses, but they can also develop if the nerve dies inside your tooth. Trauma, such as a fall or punch can ” kill” the nerve. The dead tissue that is in your tooth is more prone to infection.
Both the Periodontal and Periapical varieties of abscess are buzz-kills. You do not want either one of them to develop. Both can, if left untreated, leave you in pain that is so bad, even some over the counter pain-killers cannot provide relief. In some cases, you may lose your tooth if oral surgery does not work.
What are my treatment options? Can I do anything to help relieve the abscess?
Due to the nature of the condition you have (a really bad infection), there Is not much you can do, except get to your dentist asap! Hygienists and dentists recommend that at the first sign of a pimple-like swelling on your gum surface, you should rinse out your mouth with a salt-water solution, about three to four times per day. This might help to draw out the pus build up and relieve some of the pressure that is mounting in the abscess. Home remedies to relieve the pain from an abscessed tooth are very popular, but before trying anything of that nature it is best to consult with your dentist by phone or email. Peppermint oil has been known to help reduce discomfort from a toothache. Some dental professionals believe that the antiseptic properties in peppermint oil can even reduce gum inflammation caused by a periodontal abscess.
How will my dentist treat an abscess?
As soon as you get in the dental chair, your dentist will conduct a thorough examination and clean the infected area. In order to begin the healing process, the dentist will then drain the pus from the abscess and then either lance the abscess in order to allow the pus to escape or drill a tiny hole in the tooth, if it is a periapical abscess that he is dealing with. Sometimes, the abscess may have already ruptured before you can get to the dentist’s office. Do not try to perform any kind of at-home oral surgery on your abscess. Your dentist may also prescribe a regimen of antibiotics, if the infection has already spread. It is vitally important that the infection not be allowed to reach your brain or your heart area. This eventuality is extremely rare but it can happen.
Periapical Abscesses are most commonly dealt with by a root canal procedure. If the infection is too far gone and has damaged the inner portion of your tooth, a root canal is necessary in order to have any chance at saving the tooth and restoring it. The dead pulp tissue has to be removed and the site cleaned out or the infection can and will return, causing yet another abscess. Sometimes the dentist has no choice but to pull the tooth. It cannot be saved. In those instances, you will need a new tooth to be made.
When dealing with a Periodontal Abscess, your dentist’s challenge will be to close the pocket where the abscess developed. This is done by by smoothing out the surface of the tooth’s root. The mission here is to make the gum tissue that had been affected by the pus and abscess fold back onto the underlying part of your tooth.
Who is most at risk for developing complications from an abscess?
Men and women who have medical conditions such as Diabetes, autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren’s syndrome, sickle cell anemia, HIV/AIDS can all potentially suffer from complications related to tooth or gum abscesses. If you have had your spleen removed, are undergoing chemotherapy or are taking steroids, then you could also be at risk. Some people in these groups could even develop dental abscesses more easily than others. Your immune system will try to fight off the pus and accumulated bacteria, but it will not always win the fight. Even if you feel that the pain has gone away from the abscess; do not be fooled because If left untreated by a dentist, the infection will come back. Septicemia, which is an infection of your bloodstream, can kill you if it spreads to a vital organ. No matter how busy you may be or how afraid of the dentist you are, do not take chances because your life could be at stake. Seek professional help immediately!