The Facts About Dental Abscesses: Causes, Treatments & Complications

Dentist Blog

Dental abscesses are one of the most commonly treated complaints in dentistry, but this does not make them trivial things to deal with. Untreated, the infection that causes an abscess can rapidly spread into the tissues of the mouth, cheeks and even facial bone structure, causing serious and sometimes life threatening conditions. Do not be alarmed—abscesses can be treated with routine procedures to avoid all this, but they must be recognised and treated early.

What causes dental abscesses?

Dental abscesses have a number of causes, including:

  • Poor dental hygiene: Without regular brushing and flossing, the bacteria that form plaque can multiply rapidly to form an abscess. This is exacerbated if you eat foods high in sugar or starch, which the bacteria feed on.
  • Dental trauma: Injury to the teeth and gums can cause tooth and tissue damage, including abrasions through which bacteria can infect the underlying tissues. An injured tooth may also be damaged internally, causing a periapical abscess
  • Compromised nervous system: If you suffer from an auto-immune disorder, such as lupus or type 1 diabetes, the white blood cells present in the mouth will be less able to destroy abscess-causing bacteria. This also applies if your immune system has been weakened by corticosteroids or other treatments.
  • Gum disease: Gingivitis is often accompanies by abscesses forming the infected gum tissue.
  • Smoking: Smoking damages both the teeth and gums, and affects the salivary glands, reducing the amount of beneficial enzymes that prevent oral infection. This also applies to chewing tobacco. 

How should I have them treated?

A visit to the dentist is required without exception when a dental abscess develops. Standard antibiotics can do little to fight off the infection and do nothing about the build-up of pus in the affected area. Your dentist will inspect the abscess before recommending a treatment, which will vary depending on the location, size and seriousness of the abscess: 

  • For a periapical abscess, the dentist will drain the pus from the abscess, which generally results in rapid alleviation of pain. In most cases, the dentist will also have to perform a root canal treatment. After drilling into the tooth and removing the infected pulp within, the dentist will fill the tooth, which in most cases will cure infection. If the abscess returns or pain persists, you may have to have the tooth removes.
  • A periodontal abscess is more simple to treat. The dentist will drain the abscess, and may prescribe you with antibiotics to kill the remaining infection. However, if abscesses are exceptionally large or numerous, or have been left untreated too long, you may be referred to an oral surgeon for reconstructive gum surgery.

What potential complications can arise?

These complications are rare, but can be deadly serious, and are more likely to occur if you delay treatment:

  • Oesteomyelitis is an infection of the bone, and can spread into the jawbone if an abscess is untreated for long periods. This must be treated with an intensive regimen of antibiotics, or it may spread to other bones and cause widespread bone necrosis.
  • Septicaemia is more commonly known as blood poisoning, and is always a serious condition. This may also lead to meningitis, an extremely dangerous swelling of the linings that surround the brain and spinal cord.
  • Cellulitis is bacterial infection of the skin and epidermis, causing swelling and considerable pain. In serious cases, the epidermis lining the inside of the mouth can become swollen, restricting breathing and requiring emergency treatment.

For treatment or further information, consult resources such as Ryde Dental Care.


14 April 2015

Teeth And Tears: Dental Dramas Of A School Nurse

I have worked as a school nurse for decades. Children come to me with all sorts of scrapes and bumps and bruises. Black eyes from playing football, sprained wrists from falling off the monkey bars and stomachaches from too many sweets are common complaints. However, the issue that seems to cause the greatest angst is tooth problems. Sometimes a child will have a second tooth knocked out when playing sport and parents arrive in tears. At other times, children come to my office crying because their friends are teasing them about teeth that are discoloured or stick out. I take an active interest in the latest dental news so that I can give parents and children comfort and advice. I have included some of my collected wisdom on these pages. Perhaps this information can help you understand some options when faced with a dental problem. Thank you for reading.