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What Health Issues Does an Abscessed Tooth Cause?

by | May 25, 2023 | General Orthodontics, Oral Health | 0 comments

7 min reading time

If you have experienced pain and sensitivity, but your pain relief medication didn’t work, or if you noticed a pocket of pus growing around your painful tooth, you should seek treatment immediately, as you might be one of 200,000 Americans who suffer from tooth infections every year. A dental abscess is a painful and often severe condition that involves an infection at the root of the tooth, leading to pain, swelling, and tooth decay. You should not take tooth abscesses lightly. The further the infection spreads, the more it affects your oral and, therefore, overall health. Infection cannot be prevented by pain medications. If you notice an improvement in your symptoms, be aware that they only disappear when the affected nerve stops working. However, bacteria will still attack and destroy surrounding tissues even if the pain is alleviated. At Loudoun Orthodontics, we specialize in treating tooth abscesses. In today’s article, you will learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with a tooth infection.

What is an Abscessed Tooth?

An abscess is a bacterial infection in the pulp or nerve of a tooth. There are many types of abscesses, but they are most common in molars or teeth with extensive dental work. The condition is usually caused by poor oral hygiene, which causes bacteria and plaque to build up on the teeth and gums. Dental abscesses are not age-specific – children, adults, and seniors are all at risk! As the infection spreads to the root of the tooth and surrounding tissue, it causes swelling and throbbing tooth pain. The pocket of pus that forms in different parts of the tooth signals that you need to see your dentist immediately. An abscessed tooth can result in severe complications such as tooth loss, bone loss, and even sepsis (i.e., the body’s inability to deal with infection if left untreated).

The three types of dental abscesses

The Three Types of Dental Abscesses

Generally, dental abscesses are classified according to the location where they occur in your mouth:

  1. Gingival abscess: The gingival abscess is usually confined to the gingival tissue and does not involve the tooth itself.
  2. Periapical abscess: In a periapical abscess, bacteria infect the pulp (i.e., the nerves and blood vessels in a tooth) and then spread to the roots.
  3. Periodontal abscess: An abscess of the gum and supporting structure of the tooth is called a periodontal abscess.

How Common Is a Tooth Abscess?

In the United States, dental abscess diagnoses are uncommon, with only 200,000 cases reported yearly. However, if you maintain your teeth properly, you are unlikely to experience such a tooth infection.

What Causes a Tooth Abscess?

Poor dental health is most often to blame for an abscessed tooth. If food and bacteria aren’t removed from the teeth and gums through regular brushing and flossing, they build up and form a sticky film called plaque. As plaque hardens into tartar, it can irritate and inflame the gums, causing them to pull away from the teeth and creating an environment for bacterial infections to grow. Other factors contribute to the development of abscessed teeth, such as:

  • Tooth decay: An untreated cavity can penetrate a tooth and reach the pulp, causing infection.
  • Trauma: When the teeth are damaged by trauma, they can become infected.
  • Oral health issues: An infection is more likely to occur if your teeth have chronic gum disease, as it weakens their structure.
  • Weakened immune system: A weakened immune system makes it more difficult for the body to fight infection.
  • Unhealthy dietary choices: A diet high in sugar increases your chances of developing dental cavities.
  • Dry mouth: Tooth decay is more likely to occur with a dry mouth.

Tooth Abscess Signs

A number of symptoms may be experienced depending on the extent of the infection:

  • Severe toothache: The sharp, throbbing pain that radiates to other parts of the face, including the jaw, ear, or neck, can be caused by severe toothache.
  • Swelling: Inflammation of the gums, cheeks, or neck may cause swelling.
  • Sensitivity: The tooth may be sensitive to hot or cold temperatures or pressure.
  • Bad breath: There is a possibility that the abscessed tooth will emit a foul odor.
  • Pus: Pus pockets commonly develop at the site of infection, resulting in an unpleasant mouth taste.
  • Fever: Severe cases may also cause chills, fatigue, and a fever.

Can an Abscessed Tooth Cause Headaches?

An abscessed tooth can cause headaches. The pain can radiate to the temples, forehead, and behind the eyes. The swelling of the tooth can also lead to a headache, especially if the infection is in the upper teeth or sinuses.

Can an Abscessed Tooth Cause Neck Pain?

Pain in the neck can occur due to the inflammation associated with untreated tooth infections, which can affect nearby nerves. As a result, the pain can be severe and can radiate to other parts of the body as well, such as the head and shoulders. Occasionally, an abscessed tooth can cause swelling in the neck as the infection spreads to the lymph nodes (i.e., part of the immune system). These swollen lymph nodes will be tender as they fight off the infection.

Dental abscesses can lead to neck pain

How is an Abscessed Tooth Diagnosed?

If you show signs of a tooth infection, immediately make an appointment with your dental professional. They will thoroughly examine your symptoms to provide an accurate diagnosis and a straightforward treatment plan. Discussing your symptoms with your dentist to diagnose a tooth abscess is essential. They will ask you about your pain location, intensity, and any other symptoms you are experiencing. They will also examine your medical history, as some conditions may lead to tooth infection. Following the examination, your dentist will look for signs of inflammation or infection in your mouth and teeth. First, they will check the sensitivity of your affected tooth with a probe. They may also recommend undergoing X-rays of your teeth and jaw to see the affected area or a computerized tomography (CT) scan to determine how deep the infection is. It is also possible for your dentist to conduct a pulp vitality test to determine whether the pulp of the infected tooth is healthy. This test involves applying heat or cold to the infected area to see how it responds. If the infected tooth pulp does not respond, it will likely be infected. Lastly, if your dentist cannot diagnose the abscess properly, they may recommend that you see an endodontist. That is because endodontists treat the inside of the tooth, so they can determine if the abscess needs to be treated.

How is an Abscessed Tooth Treated?

When you are diagnosed with a tooth abscess, getting treatment as soon as possible is crucial to prevent further complications from developing. Treating a tooth infection involves making a small incision in the abscess to drain the pus and eliminate the infection. In addition, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to ease the discomfort. Root canal treatment is a viable option if the tooth can still be saved. The infected pulp is replaced with a sterile material to prevent further infection. Your tooth will function just as well without the pulp after this procedure. If you take good care of your restored tooth, it will last you a lifetime. If the infection spreads to the surrounding tissue, tooth extraction is the only way to prevent it from spreading to the surrounding tissue.

How to Prevent Tooth Abscesses

Maintaining good oral hygiene is the most effective way to prevent abscessed teeth — the more you care for your teeth, the lower your risk of decay! Keeping your dental health in good shape is as simple as following these steps:

  1. Be sure to brush your teeth twice a day, preferably with fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Keep your teeth clean by flossing regularly.
  3. Reduce your sugar intake.
  4. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you should replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
  5. Make regular appointments with your dentist for routine checkups.

Young woman getting dental treatment

Dealing With a Tooth Abscess? Loudoun Orthodontics Can Help!

Contact Loudoun Orthodontics if you think orthodontic care is the solution to your dental woes. Whether you want to learn more about the benefits of our orthodontic services or have questions about the process, use our live chat or call (703) 858-0303 or send us a message through our contact us page to connect with our friendly staff today to book a complimentary orthodontic consultation! Our office, located at 19465 Deerfield Ave, Suite 304, Leesburg, VA 20176, proudly serves not just Loudoun County but also the Greater Washington DC area. So, if you’re residing in Ashburn, Lansdowne, or Sterling, and are looking for one of the best orthodontists in Virginia, don’t hesitate to visit our office! We also invite you to keep up with our blog to get answers to many of the frequently asked questions about maintaining sparkling oral health, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to become a part of our smiling community!