A Brief Explanation of Tooth Abscesses

Posted on: 10 April 2017


A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus located in or around a tooth's root. It is caused by a bacterial infection. Here is a brief explanation of this dental condition.

Why do tooth abscesses develop?

Tooth abscesses develop when bacteria are allowed to enter the dental pulp (the centre of a tooth, where all of its connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels are located). Bacteria may gain access to this part of the tooth if it has sustained a severe fracture which extends down to its root, or if it has developed a very deep cavity as a result of tooth decay. Those who exercise poor dental hygiene are at greater risk of experiencing this dental issue.

What are the signs of a tooth abscess?

The main sign of a tooth abscess is a throbbing pain which appears quite suddenly and gradually intensifies. If the sufferer does not immediately seek out a dentist for treatment, they may find that the pain begins to spread to other areas of their head, including the neck and jaw, and that the affected side of their face becomes swollen and red. They may also notice that they develop a strong sensitivity to very cold or hot foods and that they have persistent bad breath, no matter how much they brush their teeth.

How do dentists treat this condition?

Tooth abscesses rarely, if ever, heal on their own and can cause serious health issues if left untreated for too long, as the infection may spread to adjacent bones.

A dentist that is treating a person with a tooth abscess will begin by creating an incision in the affected tooth and draining the pus. This will help to relieve some of the pain the patient is experiencing. Following this, they may carry out a root canal treatment to remove all of the bacteria and the infected pulp from the tooth. The empty canals will then be cleaned, filled and sealed, and an artificial tooth 'cap' will be fitted. 

If the root canal therapy is unsuccessful or if the infection was so advanced that it could not be performed in the first place, the dentist may instead carry out a tooth extraction. If they choose to do this, the missing tooth will then be replaced with either a denture, a bridge or a dental implant. The patient may also be prescribed oral antibiotics for the infection.