Although diagnosing an abscessed tooth is not that difficult, it is not a condition that should be ignored. If any of the warning signs of an abscess are present, immediately seek the advice of a qualified dental professional to avoid a host of potential complications, some of which, in extreme cases, can be life-threatening.
*What is an abscessed tooth?*
When a bacterial infection is present in gum tissue or in the roots of the teeth, an abscess can form. A “pocket” of pus develops when the immune system accelerates the development of white blood cells in the affected region to fight the infection.
*What causes an abscess?*
Food and debris that become embedded or lodged in the gum can introduce the bacteria that leads to an infection or the bacteria can enter via a cavity into the dental pulp. Those individuals who have lowered resistance for any reason are particularly vulnerable to the formation of abscesses.
*What are the symptoms of an abscess?*
When the tooth’s nerve becomes infected or if the infection tunnels through the gum tissue, a boil may erupt in the mouth that is clearly visible. Persistent pain and sensitivity to heat and pressure will be present and the lymph nodes under the jaw and in the neck may swell. It is not unusual for the pain and discomfort to extend into the sinuses. If the abscess ruptures, the pain will diminish, but there will be a foul taste in the mouth accompanied by an equally foul odor.
*How is an abscess diagnosed?*
If an abscess is suspected, treatment should be sought immediately from a qualified dental health professional. Left untreated, an abscess can eat into the jawbone and in some instances lead to serious, even life-threatening complications. The dentist will perform all or some of the following diagnostic steps:
– Examine the region surrounding the painful tooth.
– Tap on the tooth to test for sensitivity.
– Apply a cold stick to check for temperature sensitivity.
– Use an electric tester.
– Take an X-ray of the area.
*How is an abscess treated?*
Initially, the dentist will drain the abscess, which will instantly relieve the pain. This process does not, however, remove the cause of the problem. A root canal procedure will most likely be required to eliminate diseased tissue that, if left untreated, will continue to serve as a breeding ground for bacterial infection.
Generally, there is a period of several days that elapses between the draining of the abscess and the root canal. During this time the patient will likely be directed to rinse with warm salt water several times a day and will take a course of antibiotics to treat the infection still present in the tissues. If the abscess has eaten into the jawbone, follow-up treatment with a periodontist or an endodontist may be required.
*Do not ignore a potential abscess.*
Any time persistent, unexplained dental pain or sensitivity to heat and cold is present, the advice of a dentist should be sought. Left untreated, an abscess may spread, causing the ultimate loss of one or more teeth. The infection can compromise the immune system and potentially spread to the sinuses and brain. There is also the potential for damage to the heart and facial disfigurement in the event of bone loss.