A dental infection is never predictable, and it can cause severe pain when eating, as well as sensitivity to heat or cold. Some patients will develop an abscessed tooth, which sounds scary, but it is very treatable to save your tooth and alleviate your discomfort.
A dental abscess is a localized pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection. It typically results from severe tooth decay, but can also result from a cracked tooth or trauma to the mouth.
If you observe a pimple or bubble on your gum near your tooth, the closest tooth may have an abscess. This bubble is also called a fistula because it is a sinus tract that traces from the infected tooth root to the gum, draining pus, exudate, and bacteria. An abscess will usually appear at the root tip of a tooth.
Many people with a dental infection or abscessed tooth will experience severe pain, but some are completely unaware they have an abscess. This could be because the fistula is draining pus, which relieves pressure from the abscess.
Some individuals will also experience a dull or chronic ear pain that resembles an ear infection. This is because pain and an infection from your tooth can radiate to your ear or neck.
If you have pain when chewing, any sensitivities to temperature changes, spontaneous pain at night, or unexplained ear or neck pain, you may have a dental abscess and require dental attention.
A dental swelling can be localized to the site of an infection or generalized resulting in facial cellulitis. A large facial swelling can be dangerous and can spread quickly to your face, eyes, neck, and throat. A dental infection that causes swelling and obstructs your breathing and swallowing can be life-threatening.
A dental abscess can cause a bad taste in your mouth because of the bacteria and draining pus. You may experience a foul odor that has a metallic or salty taste.
Commonly a dental abscess is filled with pus, which is composed of bacteria and dead tissue and cells. Pus presents as a thick residue at the site of infection and will usually resolve when the abscessed tooth is treated.
An abscessed tooth is usually treated with root canal therapy. A root canal treatment has to do with removing the pulp of the tooth, which is made up of nerves, blood vessels, and tissue. The pulp chamber and canals are then cleaned, disinfected, and filled to prevent bacteria from entering. Sometimes, teeth simply cannot be saved. If you have a dental abscess on a tooth that is severely decayed or cracked beyond the point of restoration, or if you experience intense pain, you might want to consider an extraction as it would help to alleviate pain and prevent infection.
If you experience any signs that may indicate an abscessed tooth, it is important to seek dental care immediately to avoid further medical and dental complications. Going to the dentist quickly will help relieve any pain and infection, and significantly improve your long-term outcome.
Dr. Erica Anand is a pediatric dentist in private practice focused on preventative dentistry including SDF, SMART fillings, and myofunctional therapy. She also writes professionally in the dental industry, working with marketing and consulting firms.