What is an Oral Abscess?
When the inside of your mouth gets hurt or irritated, bacteria may enter and cause an infection. Sometimes you will see a painful swelling filled with pus (a thick, yellowish fluid). If the pus can’t drain out, the area will become more swollen and painful. This is known as an abscess. Your body tries to keep a bacterial infection from spreading by forming a barrier around the infection. Since most abscesses, regardless of being gum or tooth, are painful, the majority of people will seek medical help immediately. Abscesses will not go away by themselves, so it is critical that you get help from a medical professional as soon as possible. However, it can be tricky to decipher whether what you’re experiencing is actually an abscess. Here are the common symptoms of a gum or tooth abscess.
What are the symptoms of an oral abscess?
The main symptom of an oral abscess is a throbbing or stabbing pain in the mouth that won’t subside. If you have a toothache, it may be the result of an abscess. Usually, the area of the mouth that has the abscess will be sensitive to chewing, and it will be difficult and painful to brush your teeth. Another symptom is swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck, which may cause pain when swallowing and is sometimes accompanied by a fever. Pressure in the sinuses can be another symptom of a gum or tooth related abscess. If you are experiencing symptoms like the ones described, seek professional medical help immediately. In rare cases, the infection caused by an abscess can lead to more serious health problems if left untreated.
What are the types of Abscesses and what should I expect?
Abscesses can form very quickly. Sometimes they form only one or two days after the infection starts. There are three types of abscesses:
- Gingival Abscess: The first type is called a gingival abscess because it is contained in the area of the gum between the tooth and gum that is closest to the “neck” of the tooth. The tooth usually doesn’t have preexisting pockets or bone loss, and often catches inflammation caused by food or foreign-body impact into the gum area around this particular tooth.
- Periodontal Abscess: The second and more advanced form of gum abscess is the periodontal abscess. This is associated with a tooth that already has a periodontal pocket and degree of bone loss. Like the gingival abscess, however, it can be caused by food or a foreign object impacted into the pocket around the tooth. This condition can develop after a dental cleaning where bacteria still overgrows despite having recently received treatment in the area.
- Periapical Abscess: The third oral abscess usually occurs inside the tooth. This happens when the tooth’s nerve is dead or dying. This type of abscess shows up at the tip of the tooth’s root, then spreads to the surrounding bone.
Most abscesses are painful, so people usually seek treatment right away. Sometimes the infection causes little or no pain. If an abscess is not treated, the infection can last for months or even years, so it’s important to not ignore the symptoms.
An untreated infection can damage the surrounding bone and teeth. A hollow tunnel sometimes forms through the bone and skin to allow pus to drain. This tunnel is called a fistula or “sinus tract.” You might see or feel this opening inside your mouth. It looks like a pimple. If you have pus draining through a fistula, you might notice a strange taste in your mouth. The buildup of pressure causes the pain of an abscess. Draining the abscess through a fistula reduces the pressure. The pain will disappear; however, the infection still needs to be treated.
Sometimes, an abscess that isn’t treated can form a fluid-filled bubble (cyst) in the jawbone. If the tooth is severely broken down and can’t be saved, the cyst may come out when the tooth is extracted. If the tooth can be saved, you will need a root canal to remove the infected nerve. If this treatment does not heal the cyst, you may need surgery to remove it. In rare cases, the infection that causes an abscess may spread and lead to serious health problems.
What can you do at home?
Abscesses are always serious because the infection may spread to other parts of the body. Call your dentist for an appointment. If you can see or feel a pimple-like swelling on your gum, rinse your mouth several times a day with a mild salt-water solution. Use half a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water. This may help draw the pus out and relieve pressure. Even if the rinse seems to help, you still need to see your dentist as soon as possible.
What will your dentist do for your abscess?
Most gum abscesses will heal quickly after three things happen:
- The area is cleaned thoroughly.
- The trapped pus is allowed to escape.
- The infection is treated.
If a fistula has formed, your dentist will trace it back to the source of the infection. Your dentist will insert a flexible, thin piece of material into the fistula. This will appear on an X-ray and show the dentist where the fistula leads. Once your dentist cleans out the infection, the fistula usually will close on its own.
If the infection started inside a tooth, your dentist will make a small hole in the tooth. This allows the abscess to drain. The tooth will need root canal treatment, followed by a filling or a crown.
If an abscess is very large or the tooth is badly damaged, you may need to have the tooth removed. A large abscess often will need to be drained. The dentist makes a hole in the gum through the bone that provides an exit path for any fluid or pus. This will reduce the risk of further spread of the infection.
People with severe periodontal disease may have abscesses. Draining them helps the immediate problem. However, the periodontal disease needs to be treated to prevent another infection. Your dentist may give you a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers. These drugs will help the abscess heal and keep the infection from spreading.
Do you have questions about oral abscesses? Call Hartnett Dental to schedule an appointment with your dentist today! (716) 649-6633.