An abscessed tooth can be a very serious medical condition. The abscess itself is defined by a sac of pus located at the root of a tooth and in the jaw as a result of infection that originates in the interior pulp of a tooth. Tooth decay is one of the primary causes of an abscess, though it can also be caused by a gumboil, which is an abscess that only affects the gums, a segment of the gingiva, or a cracked tooth.
Improper dental care; a broken tooth; a failed root canal, filling, cap, or crown; and trauma can cause a tooth abscess. Essentially, any time the enamel of a tooth is worn away and the pulp is exposed, bacteria can enter, causing infection. This infection can form a pocket of pus at the root of the tooth or in the gums around it.
An abscessed tooth is usually easy to spot because of the intense pain it causes. However, it can be identified by a few other characteristics, especially if the tooth has died and you no longer experience any pain.
You might feel generally poor like you’re about to get the flu. A fever is common, as are swollen glands in the neck, a bad taste in the mouth, and poor breath. Chewing might be uncomfortable on the affected tooth and drinking hot or cold things might cause extra sensitivity. If you see a lump on your jaw with swelling, you need to seek medical attention right away.
When you can take no more and you finally decide to go to the dentist, he or she will look in your mouth to diagnose the abscess. This might involve tapping the tooth and taking x-rays. Following that, a course of treatment will be laid out.
Since an abscess means there’s infection, a course of antibiotics might be prescribed before your tooth is worked on at all. If the tooth is too damaged, it may need to be extracted. If it’s still salvageable, your dentist will either place a filling or perform a root canal to remove all of the diseased tissue.
In the mean time, you may wish to take an over-the-counter pain reliever and rinse your mouth with warm salt water to reduce inflammation and ease your pain.
If left untreated, a tooth abscess can spread to the soft tissues of your mouth and face, the jawbone, and even to the brain. Untreated abscesses can be life threatening, and may result in endocarditis, pneumonia, sepsis, and other harmful conditions. Don’t wait to see the dentist when you have a toothache. Go in right away. Also, make appointments to see your dentist regularly for cleanings and to treat cavities to prevent abscesses from forming in the first place.