One cause of toothache is a tooth abscess. Tooth abscesses occur when the pulp (the soft tissue inside the root canal) dies and becomes inflamed. This allows bacteria to enter the pulp and infect the root. A pocket of pus can then form around the root, forming an abscess.
This article discusses the causes and symptoms of dental abscesses. It covers when you should see your doctor and how to diagnose and treat a dental abscess.
dental symptoms of abscess
The most common symptom of an abscess is pain in the bone around the tooth. Your gums may also be swollen or painful when chewing.
You may also experience the following other symptoms:
- Your toothache may radiate to your jaw, neck, or ears.
- Your teeth may be sensitive to heat, cold and chewing pressure.
- You may have a fever.
- Lymph nodes in your face, cheeks and jaw or neck may be swollen.
- Your gums may be red and swollen.
- If the abscess bursts, you may have a foul-smelling and foul-smelling discharge from your mouth and an open, draining sore.
- If left untreated, the pain can become severe and often unbearable.
Many people with toothache report pain in one area of their mouth, but they are not sure which tooth is causing it. You need to go to the dentist to find out the source of the pain.
Know when to go to the dentist or emergency room for a dental emergency
Some things that can cause tooth pain, abscesses include:
- untreated tooth decay
- cracked or broken teeth or fillings
- Gum infections, especially advanced gum disease
There’s always bacteria in your mouth, but it’s kept out of your teeth by the strong enamel. If a cavity erodes the enamel or the tooth breaks, bacteria can enter the living pulp inside the tooth. Your immune system fights back, sending in white blood cells to kill the bacteria. Pus is formed from white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria.
Your hard tooth doesn’t have any extra space inside it, so it’s trying to drain the tip of the root of the jaw. Pus pockets may form at the root tip. Abscesses can appear on dental X-rays. The pressure and inflammation of this abscess can be very painful.
You always have bacteria in your mouth. If your teeth are injured or decayed, bacteria can infect the roots of your teeth. An abscess forms at the root as your immune system tries to fight off an infection. Common symptoms include toothache, tooth sensitivity and swollen gums.
If you have a toothache or any other signs of a tooth abscess, make an appointment with your dentist right away. You need to get treatment before bigger problems arise. If the abscess bursts, you may get some relief from the pain. But with or without it, the infection can spread to your jaw.
Your dentist will examine your teeth and find abscesses. You may need an X-ray or even a CT scan to see the exact location of the abscess and whether the infection has spread.
Tooth abscesses are usually treated with a root canal or endodontic surgery.
Your dentist will first remove bacteria from the empty tubes of your teeth. They will then clean, shape and fill the root canal, and seal the space.
Later, you will return to your dentist, who will place a crown on the tooth to protect it and restore it to full function. After the new restoration, this tooth should function like any other tooth.
In some cases, teeth cannot be saved. Your dentist will need to extract the infected tooth and drain the abscess to clear the infection. If the infection has a chance of spreading or your immune system is weak, you may be treated with antibiotics.
Relief from tooth abscess pain
Toothache caused by an abscess can come and go, but if the pain does go away, don’t be fooled.
Before you’re able to go to the dentist, here are some ways to relieve toothache caused by a tooth abscess or tooth infection:
- Avoid very cold or very hot food and drinks. Extreme temperatures can cause pain as the dentin layer of the tooth may have been invaded by cavities. Avoid cold drinks, juices, ice cream, coffee, tea or hot soups. These can trigger exposed dentin and cause extreme pain.
- Avoid foods and beverages that are very high in sugar or very acidic. Common acidic foods are soft drinks or fruit juices. These lower the pH in the mouth, causing the mineral layer that protects the teeth to wear away (demineralization). Teeth with dental abscesses are highly sensitive, so any pH changes should be avoided.
- Use over-the-counter pain relievers. Most toothaches are caused by inflammation, so pain relievers that reduce inflammation may help. Never put pain relievers on teeth or gum tissue, as this may burn the tissue.
- Flossing between teeth is painful. Removing food debris and plaque may help reduce pain from a toothache. It may help reduce inflammation in the periodontal area, where pain is transmitted to the rest of the infected tooth.
- Temporarily seal a hole in the tooth. Some pharmacies have over-the-counter temporary fillings that can be used to temporarily seal holes caused by decayed or cracked teeth.
- Raise your head when you sleep. Raising your head while resting can relieve some of the pain caused by a toothache.
- Rinse with warm salt water. If the abscess is caused by a gum infection, rinsing with warm salt water 2 to 3 times a day may help relieve the toothache. The saline acts as an antiseptic and can remove bacteria from the infected area.
The longer you wait for the abscess to be treated, the greater the chance of serious complications. You may lose a tooth that could have been saved and you are at risk of late-stage infection.
Tooth abscesses may develop after a tooth has cracked or has begun to decay. Natural bacteria in the mouth can infiltrate the pulp and infect the roots. A pus-filled pocket forms as your immune system tries to clear the infection. This abscess can cause pain, swelling, and other signs of infection, such as fever.
You need to see a dentist to resolve your tooth abscess. You may need a root canal to save the tooth. If you don’t treat the abscess quickly, further problems may develop and you may need to have the tooth removed.
If you have a toothache, see your dentist right away. An abscessed tooth will not go away on its own. By diagnosing and treating the problem, you can avoid days to weeks of pain so you can smile pain-free again.