What is a Dental Abscess?

When bacteria collects in a closed space in the body and causes an infection it is called an abscess. When an abscess forms around a tooth in the gum tissue or bone, it is called a dental abscess or a periodontal lesion.

Dental abscesses can be very painful. Two types of dental abscesses exist; periapical (around the tooth root) and periodontal (around the gum). Some abscesses may be acute (come on suddenly) and some may be chronic (present for a long time).

Periapical abscesses are caused by bacteria traveling through the pulp space (where the 'nerve' is) down to the bottom end of the root of the tooth. These abscesses are typically caused by dental decay and bacteria getting into the pulp and causing infection.

Periodontal abscesses are caused by bacteria traveling down between the tooth and the surrounding bone. Many times these abscesses occur in those with periodontal disease and the bacteria has already caused bone loss. When the bacteria gets wedged into a small closed space, it festers and causes an abscess.

Symptoms of a dental abscess:

  • Pain
  • Swelling of the gums, tongue or cheek
  • Lymph gland enlargement
  • Earache-like discomfort
  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • Bad breath or foul taste in mouth

Regardless of how an abscess forms it is important to have it treated. If you leave a dental abscess untreated it may become large enough to perforate bone and extend into the soft tissue eventually becoming cellulitis, which is very serious.

How dental abscesses are treated:

  • Antibiotics to help rid the body of infection Drainage of the abscess to remove the pus
  • With periapical abscesses root canal treatment (removal of the infected pulp) is sometimes warranted
  • With periodontal abscesses deep scaling or surgery is required to remove the infectious agents to allow the support system to regenerate.

Please do not ever leave an oral infection such as an abscess untreated as it can lead to more serious systemic problems.

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