A tooth abscess or root abscess is pus enclosed in the tissues of the jaw bone at the tip of an infected tooth. Usually the abscess originates from a bacterial infection that has accumulated in the soft pulp of the tooth. This is usually but not always associated with what is commonly described as a dull throbbing excruciating ache.
A tooth abscess typically originates from dead pulp tissue, usually caused by untreated tooth decay, cracked teeth or extensive periodontal disease. A failed root canal treatment may also create a similar abscess.
There are two types of dental abscess. A periapical abscess starts in the dental pulp and is most common. A periodontal abscess begins in the supporting bone and tissue structures of the teeth.
The pain is continuous and may be described as extreme, growing, sharp, shooting, or throbbing. Putting pressure or warmth on the tooth may induce extreme pain. The area may be sensitive to touch and possibly swollen as well. This swelling may be present at either the base of the tooth, the gum, and/or the cheek, and sometimes can be reduced by applying ice packs.
An acute abscess may be painless but still have a swelling present on the gum. It is important to get anything that presents like this checked by Dr. Yu as it may become chronic later.
In some cases, a tooth abscess may perforate bone and start draining into the surrounding tissues creating local facial swelling. In some cases, the lymph glands in the neck will become swollen and tender in response to the infection. It may even feel like a migraine as the pain can transfer from the infected area. The pain does not normally transfer across the face, only upwards or downwards as the nerves that serve each side of the face are separate.
Severe aching and discomfort on the side of the face where the tooth is infected is also fairly common, with the tooth itself becoming unbearable to touch due to extreme amounts of pain.
Successful treatment of a dental abscess centers on the reduction and elimination of the offending organisms. This can include treatment with antibiotics and drainage. If the tooth can be restored, root canal therapy can be performed. Non-restorable teeth must be extracted, followed by curettage of all apical soft tissue.
Unless they are symptomatic, teeth treated with root canal therapy should be evaluated at 1- and 2-year intervals after the root canal therapy to rule out possible lesional enlargement and to ensure appropriate healing.
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