What is an abscessed tooth? An abscessed tooth refers to an infection-caused pocket of pus in the tissue next to a tooth.
What causes an abscessed tooth? An abscessed tooth is caused by a serious infection that can develop in the tissue around a tooth. When the pulp of the tooth dies because of damage or tooth decay, mouth bacteria start to grow in the dead tissue. Bacteria spread from the root of the tooth to the tissue underneath it, creating a pus-filled pocket called an abscess.
An abscessed tooth may also develop because of gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis). Gum disease causes gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets. If one of these pockets becomes blocked, mouth bacteria can grow, get backed up, and an abscess may form.
As the infection spreads, the bone in your jaw may begin to dissolve to make more room for the swelling of the infected area. As the bone dissolves, pressure may be relieved and pain reduced, but the infection remains. If too much bone dissolves, there will be no support for the tooth and the tooth becomes loose and may have to be removed.
What are the symptoms of an abscessed tooth? Symptoms of an abscessed tooth include:
- Moderate to severe pain, especially when pressure is put on your tooth such as when chewing or when your dentist taps on your tooth
- Swollen and red gums
- A bad taste in your mouth
- Swelling in your jaw or face
How is an abscessed tooth treated? An abscessed tooth is usually treated with:
- Antibiotics, to destroy the bacteria causing the infection
- A hole created in the top or back of the tooth to allow the infection to drain and remove the dead tooth pulp, and a root canal filling
- Removal of the tooth (extraction) if the root canal treatment is not effective
How can I prevent an abscessed tooth? Bacterial infections in the mouth, the cause of abscessed teeth, can usually be prevented by:
- Maintaining good nutrition habits
- Brushing your teeth in the morning, at night, and after eating
- Flossing your teeth every day
- Regular dental checkups, which may include dental X-rays.
Certain medications can cause excessive mouth dryness (xerostomia). If your mouth is very dry, it can cause the rapid formation of severe dental cavities, which can kill the nerve of a tooth and lead to a dental abscess. Dental problems caused by dry mouth may be prevented by taking frequent sips of water, chewing gum, or sucking on sugarless hard candy. More severe dry mouth symptoms may need to be treated with medication.
Medications that cause mouth dryness include:
- Antidepressants, such as Zoloft and Prozac.
- Antihypertensives, such as clonidine and captopril.
All information provided under Patient Education is for informational purposes only. Please do not make a diagnosis based solely on the information contained in these pages. For additional assistance, please contact us or your regular physician.