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What is a Dental Abscess?

A dental abscess or dentoalveolar abscess is a condition caused by the spread of plaque buildup within the soft tissue in the teeth or gums. It’s more dangerous than most of us think it is, especially when people ignore the symptoms in the beginning stages or are not careful about proper oral hygiene.

A dental abscess is a painful and potentially life-threatening condition

To get a better understanding of abscess and how it can be dealt with, let’s take a closer look at this dental condition.

Dental Abscess

What Causes a Dental Abscess?

To put it as simply as possible, a dental abscess is the accumulation of pus inside the teeth or gums. It usually originates from a bacterial infection that has manifested itself in the soft pulp of a tooth. The main cause of this dental condition is severe tooth decay, but it can also be caused by prior dental work or trauma which results in the chipping or breaking of a tooth.

Dental Abscess Types

The various types of dental abscess include:

  • Gingival abscess, which occurs in the gums and does not affect the tooth or its connective tissue fibers.
  • Periodontal abscess, which starts in the supporting bone tissue structures of the teeth.
  • Periaphical abscess, which begins in the soft pulp of the tooth.

What are the Symptoms of the Condition?

The main symptom of dental abscess is gnawing, sharp, throbbing, or shooting pain, which occurs in a variety of degrees. In most cases, the discomfort starts suddenly and becomes more intense and unbearable with time. In case of a severe abscess, the pain may spread from the affected area to the ears, neck, and jawbone.

Some other symptoms of a dental abscess include:

  • Fever
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Discomfort causing lack of sleep
  • Difficulty in opening the mouth
  • Pain in the affected area when biting and chewing
  • Foul-smelling breath
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold drinks/food
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Swelling in neck glands, upper or lower jaw
  • General feeling of being unwell
  • Red and swollen gums

How is it Diagnosed?

Gingival Abscess

A dental abscess can be diagnosed by a dentist using a dental instrument or performing an X-ray of the mouth. The X-ray looks for erosion of the bone around the abscess while the dental instrument probes the affected area for pain and sensitivity. The diagnosis needs to be performed by a qualified dental expert.

Treatment for a Dental Abscess

The treatment of an abscessed tooth aims at treating the infection, preserving the tooth, and preventing further dental complications. Various treatment options can be suggested by your dentist, depending on the severity of the condition. These include:

  • Incision – This option includes cutting the abscess and draining the pus, which contains bacteria, allowing healthy tissue to replace the previously infected parts of the gum.
  • Surgery – In the event of a recurring infection, surgery may be done to remove the diseased tissue or reshape damaged gum tissue. The surgery procedure depends on the extent and area of the bacterial infection.
  • Painkillers – These are used to reduce pain while a patient is awaiting treatment or to help manage any pain during the healing process. Painkillers should only be taken when prescribed by a dentist.
  • Antibiotics – To keep the infection from spreading, dentists may prescribe antibiotics, which can be taken together with painkillers. These will normally be prescribed both before and after the main procedure (incision/surgery).


The prognosis of dental abscess depends on how deep a dental infection has spread. If the infection is localized to the tooth, and is caught and treated in good time, the prognosis is usually very good and the patient does not suffer irrevocable damage.

However, if the infection is left untreated, it can penetrate into the jaw bone, parts of the head or neck and even throughout the body, resulting in a situation that is difficult to control. In worst-case scenarios, dental abscess can escalate to a life-threatening condition when swelling in the jaws and neck affects the airway.

Prevention is Better than Cure!

The best way to prevent a dental abscess is to ensure good dental hygiene through daily and proper brushing and flossing of the teeth. Both of these oral hygiene practices are extremely important as they help to remove plaque, thus ensuring it does not build up on the teeth or gums.

Regular dental check-ups can also help prevent abscess by ensuring that tooth decay is discovered early and treated immediately. Timely diagnosis can keep a small cavity from developing into a dental abscess someday, so schedule your checkup at Monarch Dental Clinic at the earliest!

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