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Dental Abscess

If you have ever had an abscess you will know that it is one of the most unpleasant dental problems. If left untreated it can cause excruciating pain, not only in the affected tooth, but also in the surrounding teeth, as well as the jaw, face and gums. In many instances there will be a constant throbbing pain and some people, in particularly bad cases, will also experience agonising shooting pains as well as extreme tenderness around the affected area. Dental abscesses can really make a person feel unwell, with a high temperature and fever being common symptoms.

With the above in mind, it is hardly surprising that the development of an abscess is one of the biggest reasons why people require emergency dentistry treatment.

So, what exactly is an abscess and what are the causes?

An abscess is an area of pus that gathers in gums and/or teeth and is normally the product of a bacterial infection. A lot of the time an infection can set in when a tooth has been cracked or fractured (although it isn’t limited to this), which is why it is important to always get checked over if you have had any dental trauma or you suspect damage to one of your teeth. Most of the time, though, the infection will enter via a cavity in the tooth that has been caused by decay.

Generally speaking, there are three types of dental abscess that you should be aware of: a periodontal abscess; a peripheral abscess and a periapical abscess. All are unpleasant if left untreated, but all are different in terms of how they affect the mouth and how they develop. The latter, however, is the most severe abscess that dentists have to deal with.

A periapical abscess forms when an infection gets into the pulp of a tooth, normally through a cavity caused by decay.

Periapical abscess

This is undeniably the worst kind of abscess and needs addressing by a professional as soon as possible. This is because as soon as the pulp of the tooth is infected, the tooth may end up dying and may then need to be taken out.

Plaque is the primary cause of dental decay so eradicating or minimising the build up of it is vital in helping to prevent the chances of getting a periapical abscess in the first place. Plaque is something that builds up on everyone’s teeth, but is something that can be slowed by regular brushing and flossing, and practising good oral habits.

If you don’t look after your teeth and gums as advised plaque will remain on the teeth and may combine with sugars from food and drink to create acid – this is where problems arise. The acid that is left on the teeth will eventually break down the enamel on the teeth as well as the dentin, which consequently means that the pulp of the tooth will be left open to infection. The bacteria will continue to penetrate the pulp until it actually reaches the bone structure and this is when the abscess forms.

Periodontal abscesses

Although not as severe as periapical abscesses, periodontal abscesses also cause problems for many.  This kind of abscess forms when plaque and bacteria get onto the gums to cause periodontitis, which is more commonly known as gum disease.

Periodontitis makes the gums swell and become red and can also make the tissue that encompasses the root of the tooth come away entirely from the base and foundation of that tooth. The opening that this creates enables a small pocket to develop (commonly referred to as a periodontal pocket) which is exceptionally difficult to clean; and consequently infections can get in and bacteria can easily enter. An abscess can then form because you cannot clean this small area where bacteria can continually build up.

Peripheral abscesses

This type of abscess doesn’t directly affect the bone structure of the tooth and normally forms on the gum tissue.

Spotting the signs of an abscess

In all honesty, it is very difficult to spot a developing abscess; this is why it is integral that you attend regular check-ups at your dentist.  Most people think that when they experience pain and swelling this signals the start of an abscess forming -but this is not true. In actual fact, pain is a sign that the problem is actually quite advanced and something has not been right for a while. Discomfort normally signals that the inner pulp of the tooth is exposed, which is one of the very last stops before emergency dentistry is required. Because there is no easy way for you to tell whether there are any cavities that may cause you problems down the line, you should aim to see your dentist as often as you can, as they will be able to spot any cavities and fill them so that any chance of an abscess forming is eradicated.

Other symptoms, as well as pain, that you may wish to look out for include a strange taste in your mouth; fever, and generally feeling under the weather; trouble opening your mouth and swallowing, and sensitivity to hot and cold beverages and foods.

Why should I seek an emergency dentist if I have an abscess?

Because of the discomfort and serious complications that can arise from a dental abscess, it is pivotal that you seek emergency dental treatment as soon as you can. The reason for the urgency is that if the abscess is left, you are running the risk of serious infection, and in some cases, the tooth may have to be extracted to stop any more infection spreading to other areas of the mouth and into other teeth and gums.  It really isn’t worth taking any risks.

If you are in the south west London area and think that you may have an abscess that needs dealing with, make sure you get in touch with us at Pearl Dental Clinic so that quality treatment, advice and after-care can be given to you immediately.

Even if the pain starts to become less and less, people should still be wary not to fall into a false sense of security. Just because there is less pain this does not automatically mean that the abscess is
getting better –  in fact, it could be getting worse -so it is still strongly advised that you make an emergency appointment. In some cases, the abscess can burst on its own, which gives brief pain
relief, but because there is still an infection present, your tooth/teeth may still be affected.

With this in mind, you should make an appointment to be on the safe side and get the tooth and abscess checked over, and if needed, get the cavity filled once all decay and infection has been removed. Never just leave an abscess to sort itself out – it won’t. Instead, it will only get worse and could eventually lead to severe damage to the surrounding bone.

How will I be treated and will this be the end of the problem?

The method of treatment that the dentist will undertake will come down to what kind of abscess is in your mouth.

If you have a peripheral abscess, the dentist will drain the abscess from the surface of the gum and then give you antibiotics that will help clear the infection – it is pretty straight -forward.

A periodontal abscess also needs to be drained off, but after it has been taken away, the pocket where the abscess developed will need inspecting and cleaning out to make sure that all infection has gone. Antibiotics will then be given to help eradicate any chance of the infection returning.

Finally, a periapical abscess will need a little more attention. An x-ray may be required so that the dentist can thoroughly examine what is going on in the pulp of the tooth and people should expect root canal treatment to sort the problem.

Once a dentist has removed an abscess and cleared the infection, that should be it. However, there are always times when an infection may return – that is why it is important to visit the dentist regularly after treatment so that your progress and development can be monitored.