An abscess is a localized infection, caused when bacteria enter an irritated or infected area of your mouth. The most common symptom of an abscess is a pimple-like swelling or discoloration on your gums. We recommend that you rinse with salt water, and schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to prevent a more serious infection.
What is an abscess?
Abscesses begin when an area of your mouth experiences painful swelling. These swollen areas are filled with pus (thick, yellowish fluid). If the puss cannot drain out, the area becomes more swollen and painful, and forms an abscess. The abscess acts as a barrier around the infection as part of your body’s attempt to prevent the bacteria infection from spreading. Abscesses can form very quickly, sometimes within one or two days
There are two types of abscesses:
- Gum Abscess – Also called a periodontal abscess, this type of abscess is caused by infection in the space between the tooth and gum. It may occur after food or other debris is trapped between the gum and tooth, or as a result of a bacteria build-up under the gum and in the bone.
- Tooth Abscess – This type of abscess occurs inside the tooth, and is also known as a periapical abscess. It occurs when the nerve of the tooth is dead or dying, and initially appears at the tip of the root before spreading to the surrounding bone.
Abscesses are always a serious problem, and they are often very painful. Do not ignore that pain, hoping it will go away on its own. In some cases, the infection can cause little or no pain. However, if left untreated, the infection can last for months or years and may spread to other parts of your body, causing further damage to your oral and overall health. Untreated abscesses can damage the surrounding tissue and teeth. The scar tissue can then cause a hollow tunnel to form underneath the skin, called a fistula or sinus tract. Pus from the abscess can drain through this tunnel to an opening on the surface, much like a pimple; you might see or feel this opening inside your mouth. Untreated abscesses can also form a fluid-filled bubble, or a cyst, in the jawbone, which will have to be removed by surgery.
Please seek treatment from your dentist immediately if you have an abscess.
If you can see or feel a pimple-like swelling on your gum, begin rinsing your mouth several times a day with a mild salt-water solution consisting of ½ teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water. This helps to relieve pressure in the affected area and draw out the puss. Make an appointment with your dentist immediately.
When you visit your dentist, he or she will:
- Thoroughly clean the area
- Drain the pus from the abscess
- Treat the infection
After the abscess is located and treated, the fistula will typically close on its own. If the abscess is a tooth abscess, the dentist may need to perform a root canal to remove it and top off your tooth with a dental crown.
If an abscess if very large, or the tooth is severely damaged, your dentist may need to extract the tooth. Your dentist may also provide you with a prescription for antibiotics to help the abscess heal and prevent further spread of the infection.
Your dentist may give you a prescription for antibiotics and pain killers after your treatment. These will help the abscess to heal and prevent the infection from spreading.