Some dental problems can creep up on you and you might not know you have them until you see a dentist. For example, you might not notice early signs of tooth decay or a cavity forming or you might not be aware that you have early signs of periodontal disease. Other dental problems make their presence known in a way that’s a bit more obvious.
For example, the major sign that you have a dental abscess, or a buildup of bacteria and pus either just underneath the tooth or in the gum, is severe pain. Usually, if you think you have a dental abscess, the best thing you can do is call your dentist, as professional treatment is needed to clear the infection, keep it from spreading and keep it from coming back.
What Causes an Abscess
A number of things can lead to a dental abscess. The condition is often a complication of gum disease or tooth decay. A periodontal abscess, which forms in the pockets that develop in the advanced stages of periodontal disease, often occurs because the condition isn’t fully treated. A periapical abscess, which forms just beneath the tooth, often develops because the teeth have decayed sufficiently to allow bacteria to enter the pulp in the center of the tooth, then spread to the base of the tooth’s root. An abscess in the tooth is more common than an abscess in the gums.
What Are Its Symptoms?
Pain is the primary symptom of a dental abscess, whether it’s in the tooth or gum. The pain is usually persistent and becomes worse as time passes. The pain can also spread to other areas, such as the ear or jaw, usually on the same side as the abscess. A dental abscess can make it difficult to chew, swallow or even open the mouth. Some people sensitive to cold or hot foods and might have trouble sleeping from the discomfort.
Bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth can also develop as a result of a dental abscess. In some cases, the abscess can burst, so that the pus and bacteria drains out. If the abscess bursts on its own, a patient might feel a sudden relief from the pain. Fluid from the abscess can fill a patient’s mouth, bringing with it a bad odor and bad taste.
What Can Make It Worse
Even though saline rinses and over-the-counter pain medications can provide some relief, dental abscesses always need professional treatment. If left untreated, the condition can cause a number of serious complications. One major complication can occur if the bacteria or infection spreads from the tooth or gums to another area of the body. The infection can spread within the mouth or to major organs.
One complication is called Ludwig’s Angina, which is an infection of the soft tissue in the mouth, just under the tongue. The infection causes swelling, which can make it difficult to swallow or breathe. In some cases, the swelling is severe enough that a patient needs surgery to open the windpipe.
An untreated abscess can also lead to a condition called osteomyelitis, or an infection of the jaw bone. Even if the infection doesn’t spread, the tooth might beyond saving, meaning that a dentist will need to pull it. In that case, a patient will most likely need an implant to replace the lost tooth.
Treating an Abscess
While the possible complications from a dental abscess are frightening, the good news is that the condition is very treatable, especially when caught early. Usually, treatment involves removing the source of the infection, disinfecting the tooth or gum and surgery to restore the tooth or gum, if needed. If the abscess is in the tooth, it’s common for a the dentist to perform a root canal, in an attempt to save the tooth. If the abscess is in the gum, the dentist might perform scaling and root planing to thoroughly clean the teeth and gums and reduce the size of a periodontal pocket.
Your dentist might also prescribe antibiotics to kill off any remaining bacteria. If you are in pain, he might recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever or using a salt water rinse to reduce discomfort.
An Ounce of Prevention
Once the abscess has been treated, preventative measures can keep the condition from recurring. Those measures include taking good care of your teeth and gums, by brushing and flossing regularly, using a fluoride toothpaste and seeing your dentist regularly.
If you had a periodontal abscess, you may want to see a periodontist to monitor the health of your gums and treat any remaining gum disease. Depending on the stage of your gum disease, non-surgical treatments might be enough. You might need surgery to reduce the size of periodontal pockets or improve the gums.
In the Miami area, Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas specialize in treating the symptoms and complications of periodontal disease. If you are concerned about a periodontal abscess or are believe you might have gum disease, call their office to schedule an appointment today: (305) 447-1447.