Openings in enamel allow bacteria to grow and infect the center of a tooth, which can spread from the root to the supporting bones. This type of infection results in a tooth abscess, also known as a dental abscess, which is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection and often resulting in a painful toothache. There are two types of tooth abscesses: periapical and periodontal.
Abscesses can occur at different areas around the tooth for different reasons – a periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root, while a periodontal abscess occurs in the gums at the side of a tooth root. A periapical tooth abscess typically occurs because of an untreated dental cavity, an injury, or prior dental work.
You should see your dentist as soon as possible if you begin to see any signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess. If you have a fever, swelling in your face, trouble breathing or swallowing, and you can't reach your dentist, then go to an emergency room as these symptoms often indicate the infection has spread deeper into your jaw, throat, neck, or other areas of your body.
To properly diagnose an abscess, your dentist will look closely at your teeth, mouth, and gums. Dental radiographs and other tests can help your dentist determine which tooth or teeth are causing the problem. To get rid of the infection, your dentist might provide antibiotics before draining the abscess. The tooth might be salvageable with root canal treatment, but in some cases, the tooth may need to be pulled.
There are multiple causes of tooth abscesses, including:
Leaving a tooth abscess untreated can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications. If the abscess is not drained in time, then it can rupture. A ruptured abscess will relieve the pressure, but the infection will remain active and continue to spread, causing more pain and destroying tissue. Additionally, these infections can spread to other parts of the body and cause bone infections, sepsis, blood infections, cellulitis, and even parapharyngeal (deep neck) abscesses.
To prevent a tooth abscess and decay, it is essential to take proper care of your teeth by: