One of the most common, albeit painful, infections that you can get is a dental abscess or abscess tooth. Occurring near the root of the tooth below the gum-line, an abscessed tooth is a pocket of infected tissue that causes intense pain with the possibility of spreading the diseased material to the jaw and other parts of the body. Although these abscesses are becoming less common due to better hygiene practices, they do still occur from time to time.
We think that it is important that our patients be able to recognize the signs of a developing abscess, and know how to treat it. So, if you believe that you are developing an abscess, here are the four questions you should ask yourself:
- What is an abscess tooth?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a world renowned health organization, a tooth abscess is “a pocket of pus that’s caused by a bacterial infection. The abscess can occur at different regions of the tooth for different reasons … The bacterial infection can cause swelling and inflammation at the tip of the root.” This type of infection is especially painful, and requires professional care in order to be treated.
- How do I know I have an abscessed tooth?
There are several symptoms that you need to look out for if you believe you have an abscessed tooth: Severe throbbing pain that can extend to the jawbone, neck or ear, oral sensitivity to temperature changes, trouble chewing or biting, fever, swelling in your face or cheek, lymph node swelling and sensitivity, or randomly experiencing a foul-tasting fluid in your mouth followed by pain relief.
All of the symptoms mentioned above could indicate a dental abscess. However, if you experience the last symptom, and you are no longer feeling any pain, that is a sign that the abscess has ruptured and you should contact your dentist immediately.
- How is an abscessed tooth diagnosed by my doctor?
If you are experiencing symptoms of a dental abscess, we strongly recommend that you contact your dental professional as soon as possible in order to fight the infection before it spreads any further. During your doctor’s examination, on top of the tests they usually administer during a regular checkup, they may also: Ask you to perform a “bite test”, gently tap your tooth with a dental probe, recommend making an appointment with an endodontist (an infected tooth specialist), or ask to perform an X-ray or CT-scan of your mouth.
Using one, or all, of these methods your doctor will be able to determine if you need treatment for this nasty infection.
- How do you treat an abscess tooth?
After your dentist or endodontist confirms the abscess, there are several treatment options that are available:
- Perform a root canal:
Your doctor will drill into the tooth, removing the diseased tissue and draining the abscess. They will then fill and seal the hole, prescribe antibiotics, and possibly install a cap on the infected tooth – making it strong enough to last for years to come.
- Incise and drain the abscess:
In this treatment option, the doctor will simply make a small cut into the infected tissue, allowing for the pus to drain. They finish the procedure by washing the area with a saline solution.
- Remove the tooth:
If the infection has done too much damage to your tooth, your doctor may have no other option than removing the entire structure through a dental extraction. With the tooth removed, they will drain the abscess easily, usually through the opening where your tooth used to be.
- Perform a root canal:
We are fully aware that none of the treatment options for an abscessed tooth are appealing. However, they are still a better alternative to living in constant pain or the possibility of the infection spreading, causing other severe (possibly life-threatening) issues. If you suspect that you have a dental abscess, it is always best to consult with your doctor as quickly as possible.
As is the case with most dental issues, the best way to prevent developing an abscess tooth is by performing daily, efficient, oral hygiene.