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Dental Abscess FAQs

You've had a nasty toothache for a couple of days and no matter what you do, the pain won't seem to subside. Before you assume you have a cavity, there may be another more serious reason why you're in so much dental pain: an abscess. An abscess is an bacterial infection that if left untreated, can be very serious. Here are some questions you might have about dental abscesses – including whether or not you should head straight to the emergency room:

What Exactly is a Dental Abscess?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a dental abscess is a small amount of pus that collects because of a bacterial infection, severe cavity or a trauma. There are three different types of dental abscesses you could suffer from – periodontal abscess, a gingival abscess or a periapical abscess.

A periapical abscess begins inside the tooth itself in an area called the pulp. The periodontal abscess generally forms because of a bacterial infection and is found in tooth's root. A gingival abscess doesn't involve the tooth at all and is found in the gums, instead.

What Are the Symptoms of a Dental Abscess?

Severe, throbbing pain is one of the most common symptoms of a dental abscess. The pain will often occur suddenly and will become worse as the hours and days pass. In many cases, the pain will feel like it has spread to the surrounding gums, cheek and jaw.

Here are some of the other symptoms associated with the three different types of dental abscesses:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold food and beverages

  • Pain when you try to swallow or chew

  • Fever

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Swelling in your gums or cheeks

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the jaw

Patients suffering from an abscess might also experience a sudden and unexpected flow of bad tasting liquid inside their mouth. This means that the abscess has ruptured and the pus found inside the pocket has evacuated.

When this occurs, the patient often feels relief from the symptoms of their abscess, including the pain.

Should I Visit My Dentist or Head to the Emergency Room?

If you believe you have an abscess, there are many options available to you. If you're suffering from pain and some of the other symptoms but they are manageable, go ahead and schedule a visit with your dentist in the next few days.

If the pain is severe and you can't control it with over-the-counter painkillers, go ahead and seek emergency dental care.

However, there are other more serious symptoms that you shouldn't ignore. If you're suffering from a high fever, are having trouble swallowing or breathing or if your face is severely swollen, visit the emergency room immediately.

What Are The Treatments Available?

Depending on your symptoms or the type of abscess you're suffering from, your doctor or dentist will utilize a variety of treatments. In some cases, the dentist will cut open the abscess to allow it to drain. The dentist will then flush your mouth with salt water to eliminate any bacteria.

If the tooth isn't severely affected by the abscess, the dentist may perform a root canal. A root canal is a great option if you want to save your tooth. However, if the tooth is too severely damaged, it will be extracted.

Once the abscess is eliminated, the dentist may prescribe antibiotics to eliminate any remaining infection.

A dental abscess can be painful, annoying and if left untreated, very dangerous -- and maybe even deadly. If you're suffering from a dental abscess and are having trouble managing the pain, don't hesitate to contact an emergency dental provider at a clinic like Hernandez Dental immediately.