You’ve got a sudden toothache and some soreness on your gums. After a little bit of Googling, you feel a little overwhelmed at all the possibilities of what it could be. An abscess tooth? What even is that? What should I do? We explain exactly what a dental abscess is and yes, you should see a dentist.
Let’s break things down
An abscess is simply a collection of pus, which is a build up of white blood cells, dead tissue and bacteria. It’s a sign that your body is fighting off an infection, which, in this case, is usually a bacteria infection.
When it comes to a dental abscess, or an abscess tooth, these are collections of pus around the tooth or it’s nearby surfaces. There are two main types:
This is the most common type of abscess and is one that starts in the center of tooth and usually develops from complications associated with tooth decay. When you have dental decay, it breaks down the enamel of your tooth and allows bacteria to invade the inside, thus causing the infection. Another reason a periapical abscess might form is if you have dead tissue inside a tooth (for example from an injury). This is because dead tissue is more prone to infection.
This type of abscess, sometimes called a gum boil, starts in the supporting structures of the teeth, such as the tissue between the tooth and gum. It commonly develops from a complication of gum disease, which causes the gums to become slightly detached from the tooth. This extra space can get filled with bacteria and form an abscess. Similar to the periapical abscess, a periodontal abscess can also form as a complication of injury to the gums or surrounding tissue. You might see this as swelling that develops next to a tooth.
What might an abscess feel like?
- A toothache that can quickly become worse. You may also experience some throbbing.
- Swollen gums that can feel tender.
- Swelling of the face. The skin over an abscess may become red and inflamed.
- The affected tooth may become tender to touch, and may even become loose.
- A fever and feeling generally unwell.
Ouch, that sounds painful. What should I do?
Get connected to a dentist as soon as possible. They can assess the situation, determine if it’s an abscess and can prescribe antibiotics to help with relief. This is important because until the infection is under control, a dentist can't start to get to the root of the problem. Fun fact? This can actually be done virtually. In a virtual visit, a dentist can identify the abscess and prescribe you antibiotics to jumpstart the healing process. A virtual visit saves a trip to the dentist and accelerates the treatment. The details of the follow up treatment will be slightly different depending on what type of abscess you have.
With a periapical abscess, once the pus is drained, your dentist might perform a root canal next, to remove any dead tissue within your tooth. For a periodontal abscess, once the pus is drained, a dentist may clean the pocket where the abscess had formed and smooth out the root surfaces of the tooth to encourage the gum to close back up. These procedures are to help prevent any reinfections.
What can I do to prevent this?
Proper oral hygiene goes a long way to prevent dental abscess because most are a result of complications from tooth decay or gum disease. Make sure to brush your teeth and floss regularly. You can also incorporate a mouthwash or tongue cleaning. Maintain a healthy diet and limit sugary drinks and foods. If you smoke, stopping smoking will also improve your oral hygiene.
It is also important to go to the dentist regularly and get a check-up twice a year. We make it easy for Wally members to stay connected with a dentist by offering unlimited virtual chats. Think of it as having a personal dentist at your fingertips.