Oral pathology is the study of oral health conditions and diseases. These are things such as lip or tongue lesions and other oral health concerns.
A dental abscess is a pocket of tissue inside the mouth or throat that is filled with pus. The pus is the result of a bacterial infection. Bacteria typically get into teeth through a chip or crack, due to tooth decay, or because of periodontal disease. Bacterial infections may also be the result of leaving a cavity untreated.
The symptoms of dental abscesses include extreme throbbing and relentless toothache-like pain, swelling, tenderness, sensitivity to heat and cold, and redness. The lymph nodes in the neck may swell when a dental abscess is present. Chills, diarrhea, fever, nausea, sweating, and vomiting may also accompany acute cases.
Complications and Consequences of Dental Abscesses
The consequences of leaving a dental abscess untreated can be deadly. Dangerous and sometimes life-threatening complications can result if a dental abscess is not treated properly. In some very advanced cases, immediate hospitalization may even be necessary.
Swelling related to an abscess can perforate bone. The pressure from an untreated abscess can block airways and make it hard to breathe. When related to upper teeth, dental abscesses may lead to blood infection, a condition called septicemia. Extremely rare complications include brain abscesses and meningitis.
While an abscess may drain without intervention, if left untreated the bacteria may spread to the jaw, to other parts of the head, neck, and chest, or throughout the entire body through a condition known as sepsis. It is important to note that, even in cases where an abscess spontaneously drains or releases the stored up pus, the infection will not go away without proper treatment and care.
Who’s at risk for dental abscesses, and why?
Several factors can put a person at greater risk for developing a tooth abscess. The risk of developing dental abscesses is obviously greater in people who do not take proper care of their teeth. Diet also plays an important role in dental health, and consuming too much sugar can promote cavities, which can progress to form dental abscesses in some cases.
In addition, complications from abscesses can spread more easily in people with underlying health issues and weakened immune systems. People with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or any medical condition that makes it more difficult for the body to stay healthy are at greater risk.
When to Seek Professional Care
Considering the life threatening nature of dental abscesses, it is important to seek professional care if you have any of the symptoms related to dental abscesses:
- If you suspect you or someone you know has an abscess, call your dentist right away
- If you cannot reach your dentist, or if you are experiencing advanced symptoms such as fever, nausea, or vomiting, an emergency room should be your first stop
Treatments and Medications for Dental Abscesses
To eradicate the infection the abscess must be drained. Abscesses sometimes rupture or drain on their own, or a doctor or dentist may drain them.
Treatment typically includes prescription painkillers and may include the use of antibiotics, especially where a weakened immune system is present. Tooth extraction is sometimes necessary, but a root canal may be performed to wipe out the infection and attempt to save the tooth.
To treat pain related to a dental abscess at home — either before seeing the dentist or doctor or after receiving treatment — over-the-counter pain relievers may be used. Ice packs can be applied to the swelling for a few minutes on and off. In addition, if an abscess drains on its own or is drained by a professional, rinsing the mouth with lukewarm water can help.
Preventing Dental Abscesses
Chances are you’ve never had a dental abscess. But, are you doing everything you need to do to make sure it stays that way? When it comes to anything as potentially life-threatening as dental abscesses, an ounce of prevention makes a ton of sense.
Maintaining good oral health and preventing dental abscesses and tooth decay requires a daily regimen of brushing and flossing. To help ensure that tooth decay is exposed early and advanced problems such as dental abscesses are avoided entirely, be sure to have regular professional cleanings and dental checkups. Finally, drinking water that has been fluoridated and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet play important roles in maintaining overall dental health.
Chances are, you’ll never have a dental abscess. But then, no one’s challenging your right to floss. And only you can challenge yourself to do all you can to protect your teeth.