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Dental Abscess

What is a Dental Abscess?

A dental abscess (dentoalveolar abscess, root abscessis or tooth abscess) swelling in the mouth due to a build-up of pus, and is the result of a bacterial infection. The usual cause is a combination of poor dental hygiene and consumption of sugary/starchy foods that can lead teeth to decay, but other factors such as illness and certain treatments play a part. An abscess causes acute throbbing pain which increases in severity over a few hours or days. The pain is often accompanied by sensitivity in the teeth. The face can also swell in cases where an abscess perforates into the bone and begins to drain into the tissues around. When pressure or warmth is put on the tooth, extreme pain may be induced. The pain can spread to other areas such as the ear, jaw and neck and it may also be difficult to swallow or open the mouth.

The two most common types of abscess are the periapical abscess” which forms under the tooth and the “periodontal abscess” which forms in the gum and bone around the affected tooth.

Complications of Dental Abscesses

dental abscess toothache

Most dental abscesses are painful but can be helped over the course of a few days with appropriate treatment. However, in rare instances, there can be further complications. Sometimes the affected tooth will be so badly damaged, that the best course of action is to extract it. It is also possible for an abscess to cause sinusitis due to infection of the cavities behind the cheekbones. Sinusitis usually clears over time without intervention.

Dental abscesses can lead to more serious complications, however, that require prompt medical rather than dental treatment. In rare instances, the infection from an abscess can spread to a proximate bone such as in the case of osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis causes severe pain in the bone, fever and nausea. As the infection is spread via the blood, it is possible for it to affect other bones in any part of the body. Osteomyelitis is usually treated with antibiotics either orally or intravenously. Other potentially life-threatening infections that can develop through spread of infection from the abscess are “Ludwig’s Angina” (an infection of the tissues in the base of the mouth under the tongue) which can lead to swallowing or breathing difficulties, and “cavernous sinus thrombosis” where infection of a blood vessel in the brain can lead to a clot forming.

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