Oral Health and Genetic Risk Factors

A guide to tooth abscesses

A tooth abscess is a very painful dental condition which usually requires emergency treatment. Read on to learn more about this dental problem.

What is a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess is an infected, pus-filled sack which develops inside a tooth. It is caused by a specific type of bacteria.  

It is most likely to occur if a person develops a cavity and chooses not to get it filled in by their dentist, as this gap serves as an entryway that allows the harmful bacteria to enter the tooth and create an infection.

What are the symptoms of this dental condition?

In its early stages, a tooth abscess will usually cause two main symptoms; namely, a persistent pain in the affected tooth which is worsened by chewing food, and a sudden sensitivity to hot or cold foods.

As the infection progresses, it may produce additional symptoms, including swelling of the face on the affected side and a higher-than-normal body temperature.

Is an abscess of this kind dangerous?

When treated promptly, a tooth abscess will not usually pose any serious risk to a person's health.

However, if someone develops this condition and waits several days to see a dentist, there is a chance that the infection could spread to their jawbone, their sinuses or the soft tissues of their mouth. A jawbone infection is particularly serious and could cause permanent loss of strength in this bone which could, in turn, affect the bone's ability to support the teeth.

There is also a risk that an untreated abscess could lead to septicaemia, a blood infection which can sometimes be fatal.

How do dentists treat tooth abscesses?

Most dentists begin the process of treating an abscess by carefully rupturing and draining the sack of pus. This is done by making a tiny incision and then using a special dental instrument to collect the pus that emerges from this opening. This step can provide the patient with a great deal of pain relief.

After this process is finished, the dentist will then usually provide their patient with a root canal treatment. A root canal is a type of procedure which aims to extract the tooth's infected pulp, along with any pus that has seeped into the root canal system.

After numbing the tooth with a local anaesthetic, the dentist will drill a hole in the affected tooth, so that they can access the root canal system and remove the pulp and pus.

When all of the harmful materials have been removed, the dentist will clean the newly-emptied canals of the tooth, to remove any residual bacteria that may still be present.

Following this, they will fill the canals and, if necessary, fit a crown to cover the hole they created during the extraction process.