Ouch — you’ve got a bad toothache that worsens by the day. It’s throbbing and hurts even more when you drink something hot or cold. Chewing anything is brutal, and now you’ve even noticed swelling in your cheek. What’s going on?
You might have a tooth abscess, which is a bacterial infection in the tooth that creates a pocket of pus. These infections most often occur when a cavity is left undetected and/or untreated. Previous dental work or an oral injury can also cause an abscessed tooth.
Other symptoms of this painful tooth infection include:
- Pain that radiates from the tooth to the jawbone, neck or ear
- Sensitivity to the pressure from biting or chewing
- Swelling in the face and/or cheek
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
- Bad breath
- Sudden taste of foul-smelling, salty fluid accompanied by pain relief (this could be the abscess breaking and leaking pus)
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
It’s important to call your dentist right away if you have any symptoms above and if you suspect you might have an abscessed tooth. This bacterial infection will not go away on its own and can spread (and become more painful) over time.
Fever, swelling of the face/cheek, and trouble breathing are all serious warning signs of a tooth abscess gone awry. If you have these symptoms and your dentist office is closed, go to the emergency room. The infection may have spread to other areas of your body, and it requires immediate treatment.
Treatment for a Tooth Abscess
Prompt diagnosis and treatment for an abscessed tooth is crucial to stop the infection from spreading. In a worst case scenario, an untreated tooth abscess can lead to sepsis — a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout the entire body.
Once your dentist makes a tooth abscess diagnosis, he or she will drain it (if it hasn’t drained on its own already, which sometimes happens.) Next, they’ll wash the abscess with salt water (saline). In some scenarios, to completely eliminate the infection and save your tooth, the dentist may perform a root canal.
After examination and drainage of the abscess, if the dentist finds your tooth can’t be saved, he or she will pull it.
And if the infection has spread past the abscessed tooth (like to your jawbone or other areas of the body), the dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics. This can keep the infection from spreading farther and causing more serious health problems.
An abscessed tooth is one of many examples in which poor oral health can lead to more serious, full-body health concerns. You can avoid ever experiencing this painful toothache by brushing and flossing multiple times a day. It’s important to have regular dental checkups so tooth decay and cavities are caught (and treated) before a tooth abscess forms. When all is said and done, you’ll be glad you’re only treated for a small cavity rather than a painful, abscessed tooth.
Talk to your dentist if you have any concerns about tooth decay, cavities, enamel erosion, or a potential abscessed tooth. As your oral health expert, your dentist is here to help.