What is an Abscessed Tooth?

You have probably heard of an abscessed tooth.  Maybe you have even experienced one.  Abscessed teeth can affect anyone from children to senior adults, from those without ever having a cavity (yes, really!) to those with severely broken-down teeth.  This blog will explain what you need to know in the event that you or a loved one experiences an abscessed tooth.

What Causes Abscessed Teeth?

An abscessed tooth is a collection of pus in the jawbone resulting from a dental infection. The infection can originate inside the tooth (an endodontic infection) or around it (a periodontal infection).  The bacterial buildup and the toxins they produce cause the body to send an immune response to the site of the infection, which includes white blood cells.  These white blood cells make up the major content of pus.

The pus tends to collect around the tooth’s root, where the infection has destroyed areas of jawbone.  This loss of bone will show up on a dental x-ray, so your dentist can quickly spot the signs of these infections.

The causes of these dental infections can include large cavities, cracked teeth, teeth that have sustained injuries causing the nerve within to die, or chronic gum disease. 

Will I Know if I Have an Abscessed Tooth?

Not always!

It is possible for the pus of an abscess to “drain”, which means it will not lead to a painful or visible swelling.  We have also seen abscessed upper molars with pus draining into the sinus cavities.  When the pus can drain and not lead to an increase in pressure, there may be little to no pain at all.  This is especially true when the tooth has a dead nerve or previous root canal treatment.

This is why consistent dental x-rays are important.  Your dentist can spot a developing abscess and treat it before it leads to a dangerous situation.

Are Abscessed Teeth Dangerous?

They can be!

The infections that cause dental abscesses can spread if left untreated.  Typically, they spread outward into the cheek or even neck.  In rare cases, though, they can spread into the airway, bloodstream or brain.  When infections cause swelling in the airway, they can cut off someone’s air supply and kill them.  Infections in the bloodstream, known as septicemia, are very dangerous and require intense medical intervention to treat.  Infections that spread into the brain are rare, but they are deadly.

In general, it is safe to assume that your abscess is dangerous and seek treatment as soon as possible!

What is the Treatment for an Abscessed Tooth?

The treatment for a dental abscess depends on the cause.  If the infection originates inside the tooth, the appropriate procedure is usually a root canal treatment.  Root canal treatments remove the infected or dead nerve and blood vessels from within the tooth and seal it with a biocompatible filling material.

If the infection began around the tooth, some periodontal therapy is necessary to remove the bacterial buildup on the tooth’s roots.  Sometimes surgery is necessary to ensure complete cleaning and promote good bone and gum reattachment to the root.

In both cases, extraction of the offending tooth is always an option.  When the abscessed tooth is an emergency, extraction is often the treatment of choice as it provides the quickest relief of pain and eliminates the source of infection in the fastest way possible.

More Questions about Abscessed Teeth?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any question you have about dental abscesses and help you select the right treatment option for your unique situation.

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