A dental abscess is a pus-filled pocket caused by a bacterial infection in the gums. An abscess resembles a red, swollen bump, pimple, or boil. The infection affects the nearby tooth but could also spread to neighboring teeth and surrounding bone. Abscesses can form in various locations around a tooth for various reasons. Dentists will drain a dental abscess and treat the infection. A root canal treatment can save your tooth. However, in some cases, the tooth will have to be extracted. Untreated dental abscesses can lead to severe, even fatal, complications. If you have a dental abscess, our Santa Clarita dentists at Valencia Advanced Dentistry at Copperhill Smiles can help.

Types of Dental Abscesses

Abscesses can result from three types of tooth infections:

  • Gingival — This infection occurs in the gums. It usually has no effect on your teeth or supporting structures.
  • A periapical abscess develops at the tip of the tooth root. Bacteria can penetrate your tooth and then spread to the pulp if it is decayed or fractured. (The pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels, is the innermost portion of the tooth.) When bacteria infiltrate the pulp, infection could spread to the tip of your tooth's root and then to the surrounding bone, resulting in an abscess.
  • Periodontal disease begins in the bones and tissues that support your teeth. Periodontal abscesses are more common and are a result of gum disease.

If left untreated, a dental abscess can spread to your jawbone, soft tissues in your face and neck, and beyond. In extremely rare cases, the infection can spread to your brain (bacterial meningitis) and heart (endocarditis).

See your dentist immediately if you have any signs or symptoms of a dental abscess. If you have a fever and facial swelling and cannot reach your dentist, visit the emergency room. If you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, go to the emergency room. These symptoms could mean the infection has spread to other parts of your body, including your jaw, throat, or neck.

The Leading Causes of Dental Abscess

Dental abscesses form when bacteria in the mouth penetrate deep inside a tooth or the surrounding structures and multiply uncontrollably.

The following are some of the most common causes of dental abscesses.

Untreated Dental Cavities

When the bacteria in your mouth clump together, they form a tough biofilm known as plaque. Plaque can be removed with regular brushing, flossing, and dental care. However, if not appropriately treated, it can spread out of control. Plaque bacteria eat away at the tooth over time, causing tooth decay. If the decay continues untreated, an abscess can develop.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontitis, or gum disease, is a medical term for inflammation and infection of the gums. The gums pull away from the teeth because of severe gum disease, exposing extensive pockets between your teeth and gums. Food and bacteria inside these pockets can cause an abscess.

A Recent Mouth Injury

A dental abscess can also be caused by an injury to the tooth or nearby structures. These injuries could be caused by surgery or trauma to your mouth.

The Risk of A Dental Abscess

When bacteria infiltrate the dental pulp, a dental abscess develops. The pulp is the innermost part of the tooth and consists of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. Bacteria penetrate the tooth through a dental cavity, chip, or crack, then spread down to the root. Swelling or inflammation at the root tip can result from a bacterial infection. You are more likely to suffer from an abscessed tooth if: 

  • You smoke — Smokers are roughly twice as likely as non-smokers to develop dental abscesses.
  • Have a dry mouth, also known as xerostomia —Bacteria thrive in mouths with little saliva.
  • Have poor oral hygiene —Brushing, flossing, and having dental cleanings reduce bacteria.
  • Have a compromised immune system —Diseases or medication can reduce your immune response, making it more challenging to fight germs.
  • You Adopt a high-sugar diet — Sugary foods and beverages, such as sweets and sodas, contribute to dental cavities and lead to dental abscesses.

Symptoms of a Dental Abscess

The pain you experience when you have a dental abscess can be:

  • Throbbing or gnawing.
  • Shooting or sharp.
  • Continuous or experienced only when chewing.
  • Radiating to other parts like your jawbone, ear, or neck.

Other common symptoms of a dental abscess include:

  • A bitter taste in your mouth.
  • Your teeth can be sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
  • Bad breath, also known as halitosis.
  • Gum swelling and redness.
  • The affected tooth can become loose.
  • The lower or upper area of your jaw could swell.
  • You can see a swollen, open, or draining sore on the side of your gums.

You can also experience additional symptoms, like:

  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Fever.
  • General discomfort, illness, and uneasiness.

Diagnosing a Dental Abscess

In addition to looking for signs of infection in the tooth and the nearby tissues, your dentist can:

  • Perform a dental X-ray to help identify the causes of the dental condition that could have led to the abscessed tooth. The dentist can use X-rays to see if the infection is spreading or affecting other areas.
  • Recommend a CT scan to determine the scope of the infection and if it has spread to other areas of your neck.
  • Tap or press the teeth together — An abscessed tooth is often sensitive to pressure or touch.
  • Perform thermal tests — The tests will assist your dentist in determining the condition of your tooth pulp.

Management And Treatment of A Dental Abscess

The treatment's goals are to get rid of the infection while avoiding complications. Treatment options for dental abscesses include:

Incision and Drainage

To drain the pus, your dentist makes a small incision (cut) in the abscess. Your dentist can install a small rubber drain to keep the area open, allowing the remaining pus to drain. The dentist removes the exuding pus with gauze squares or suction. He or she then inserts a hemostat to the full depth of the abscess space, breaking up the loculation. The dentist should repeat this in several directions to create ample space. To avoid crushing vital structures and removing the hemostat, the dentist should not close the abscess area when the jaw is open after draining.

The dentist will rinse the area with sterile saline using a large syringe with a catheter attached. The dentist applies force until all of the fluid flows.

Root Canal Treatment

This procedure helps to remove the infection and preserve your tooth. This procedure removes the infected pulp from your tooth and fills the void with material to prevent further infection. The pulp is necessary while the tooth is growing, but once mature, the tooth can survive without it. Your tooth should be restored to normal after the procedure, though you might need a dental crown to secure the root canal. If you take proper care of your restored tooth, it can last a lifetime.

Removing a tooth's nerve does not affect the tooth's health or function afterward. The nerves only serve a sensory function, detecting hot and cold temperatures. As a result, their absence does not affect how your tooth functions.

One or several office visits to a dentist are required for root canal therapy. If your dentist cannot perform root canal therapy, he or she will refer you to an endodontist. An endodontist is a dentist specializing in diagnosing and treating dental pulp disease and injuries.

The first step is for your dentist to take an X-ray to examine the shape of the root canal and look for signs of infection. Your dentist or endodontist will then use local anesthesia to numb the area. Although anesthesia is not always necessary, your dentist can choose to use it to help you relax and feel at ease.

The dentist will then use a rubber sheet around the affected tooth to keep the treatment area free of saliva. The pulp, bacteria, and other debris will be removed after drilling a hole inside the tooth. The dentist will use several root canal files to complete this procedure. Different files with increasing diameter are placed inside the hole and worked down the tooth's length. This process's debris will be flushed out with sodium hypochlorite or water.

The tooth will be sealed after it has been cleaned. Your dentist can advise you to wait up to a week before sealing the tooth, especially if it is severely infected and requires medication to clear up. If it is clean, he/she can close it on the same day. If you must wait a few days, your dentist will fill the exterior hole to remove contaminants between appointments.

During the subsequent appointment, the dentist will fill the tooth's interior with gutta percha and place it in the root canal. A filling is used to fill the exterior access hole.

Tooth Extraction

An abscessed tooth could be irreparably damaged. Your dentist will need to extract or pull out your tooth. To numb the area around the tooth to be removed, your dentist will inject a local anesthetic. Sometimes, dentists use a strong general anesthetic to put you to sleep during the procedure.

The dentist will then rock your tooth with forceps until it is loose from the jawbone. Blood will clot inside the socket after the tooth has been extracted. The dentist will insert a gauze pad into the socket and have you bite down until the bleeding stops. The dentist can use a few stitches to close the gum at the extraction site.

Antibiotics Prescription

Your dentist could recommend that you take antibiotics as part of your treatment. While the medicine can help fight off remaining bacteria, it will not eliminate the source of the infection, which is the infected tooth.

After treatment, a dental abscess should heal. Temporary sensitivity is normal; it can take several days to feel completely normal again. Healing times can vary because each case is different. Inquire with your dentist about what to expect after dental abscess treatment.

Managing The Pain From A Dental Abscess

While awaiting treatment, an individual can benefit from over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. It is critical to carefully follow the instructions on the packet. Pain relievers are only for temporary relief and should not replace a visit to a dentist. Pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol (Paracetamol) are effective. However, some are not appropriate for some patients:

  • Ibuprofen and asthma — If you have asthma, avoid taking ibuprofen.
  • Ibuprofen and stomach ulcers — If you have had stomach ulcers, do not take ibuprofen.
  • Aspirin and children — Aspirin is not suitable for children under 16.
  • Aspirin and pregnancy and breastfeeding — If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid taking aspirin.

Whether a Dental Abscess Can Go Away On Its Own

A dental abscess will not heal on its own. The pain can subside if an infection kills the pulp inside your tooth. The pain stops because the nerve is no longer functioning, and you will not feel it. The bacteria, on the other hand, will continue to spread and damage the surrounding tissue. Even if you are no longer in pain, consult your dentist if you have symptoms of a dental abscess.

If left untreated, a dental abscess can eventually spread to nearby tissues causing havoc on your oral and overall well-being. The infection can spread over weeks or months, and it is impossible to predict how long it will take. Since dental abscesses do not heal independently, you must seek treatment.

Home Remedies For a Dental Abscess

You can take several steps at home to alleviate pain:

  • Food and beverages that are either too hot or too cold should be avoided.
  • Chewing on the side of the mouth that has no abscess will be less painful.
  • Avoid flossing around the affected area.
  • Make use of a very soft toothbrush.

Even if home remedies will help a person feel more comfortable while waiting for treatment, it is critical to seek treatment from a healthcare professional to avoid any complications associated with a dental abscess.

The Complications of A Dental Abscess

Complications emerge in the vast majority of incidents only if the abscess is left untreated; nevertheless, complications can still arise even after treatment, which is extremely rare. Possible complications are as follows: 

  • Dental cysts — If the dental abscess is not treated, a fluid-filled cavity can form at the bottom of the tooth's root. This is called a dental cyst. There is a high likelihood that the cyst will develop an infection. .
  • Osteomyelitis occurs when bacteria from an abscess enter the bloodstream, infecting the bone — The patient will have a high fever, severe discomfort in the affected bone, and nausea. The affected bone is usually located near the abscess. However, because it has possibly spread into your bloodstream, any bone in your body could be affected. Antibiotics are administered either orally or intravenously.
  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis — Here, a blood clot forms at the cavernous sinus. This is a large vein located at the base of your brain due to the spread of bacteria. Cavernous sinus thrombosis can be treated with antibiotics and, in some cases, sinus surgery. The condition can be fatal in some cases. This is a very uncommon complication.
  • Ludwig's angina is an infection that occurs on the floor of the mouth caused by the spread of bacteria from a dental abscess — Swelling and severe pain are present under your tongue and in the neck. In extreme cases, the patient can struggle to breathe. Ludwig's angina has the potential to be fatal. Antibiotics are administered to patients. If the patient has severe Ludwig's angina, a procedure to open the airway can be necessary.
  • Maxillary sinusitis occurs when bacteria infiltrate the small spaces behind your cheekbones, known as the maxillary sinuses — This is not a severe condition, but it can be uncomfortable. The patient can experience fever and tender cheeks. Occasionally, the condition disappears on its own.

Prevention of Dental Abscess

You can take the following steps to help prevent dental abscess:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly to get rid of as much plaque as possible. Pay close attention to the area beneath the gum line, where plaque can hide.
  • To help prevent tooth decay, use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth regularly to eliminate plaque between your teeth.
  • Make regular dental appointments to ensure thorough cleaning. A dentist will also remove the hardened plaque or tartar that brushing alone cannot remove.
  • Treat diabetes or other underlying medical conditions that may impair your immune system or increase the likelihood of infection.
  • Seek treatment for dental cavities as soon as possible before bacteria can enter the tooth's inner structures.

Find a Dental Abscess Dentist Near Me

If you suspect you have a dental abscess, contact the dentists at Valencia Advanced Dentistry at Copperhill Smiles as soon as possible. We will evaluate the area of concern and, if it is an abscess, will determine the appropriate treatment. Dental abscess treatment can range from simply draining the infection to more extensive procedures such as a root canal or extraction. We will most likely prescribe an antibiotic to keep the infection under control. Contact us at 661-775-7717 to speak to one of our Santa Clarita dentists.