A dental abscess is an infection that occurs at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth. These painful infections are frequently caused by tooth decay, but may also occur following trauma to a tooth.
The most salient symptom of a dental abscess is a persistent, severe toothache. This toothache frequently exhibits as gnawing, throbbing, or shooting pain. Other symptoms of this infection may include pain when chewing, sensitivity to extreme temperatures, bad breath, a bitter taste in the mouth, red or swollen gums, swollen jaw, swollen neck glands, fever, or an open, draining sore on the gum. The toothache itself may stop if the root of the affected tooth dies as a result of the abscess, but this does not necessarily mean the infection is healed. It may continue to destroy surrounding tissue, even after the severe pain has subsided. This risk makes it extremely important to see a dentist instead of trying to wait the symptoms out.
A dental abscess can be diagnosed through a dental exam. Treatment seeks to eliminate the infection and preserve the tooth. To take care of the infection, the abscess may need to be drained. This is frequently done via a root canal, during which the tooth is drilled into, removing the nerve ending in the tooth, and leaving a small hollow channel (or canal) in the tooth. In some cases, a root canal may occur after the infection is healed to remove any dead or severely damaged tissue. A crown may then be placed over the tooth. In certain situations, the entire tooth may be extracted, allowing the abscess to drain through the now empty socket. A third possibility for draining an abscess is through a small incision in the gum.
Once the abscess has begun to be drained, antibiotics are frequently prescribed to help fight the infection. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be used to help deal with the pain and discomfort. Rinsing the mouth with warm salt water is frequently recommended to help alleviate discomfort.
Of course, prevention is the best method for dealing with dental abscesses. Regularly following good dental hygiene practices and making and attending regular dental appointments helps to prevent a whole host of dental problems. If you experience tooth pain, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Dental problems can often lead to other health problems, and are best dealt with immediately.