Why You Should Never Delay Treatment for a Dental Abscess

If you develop a painful dental abscess, seek treatment fast. The infection can spread to the rest of the mouth. Find out how a quick response can prevent this.

Why you should never delay treatment for a dental abscess

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If you have ever had a dental abscess before, you probably remember it very well. It is a pretty unsightly and painful condition and one that most people remember for a long while. Generally, an abscess only develops because an existing condition has been left untreated. So, if you were to leave a deep cavity without any attention or repairs, it would eventually turn into a painful abscess.

This alone should tell you that the condition is a fairly serious one. If you have a dental abscess, you should, under no circumstances, delay treatment. The condition will worsen quickly and possibly lead to severe sickness. If treated, abscesses are easy to recover from and will not necessarily leave lasting damage. It is only if you avoid treatment that there is any need to worry. It is imperative that you remember this.

The dental abscess is characterised by serious facial swelling in the region of an infected tooth. The whole mouth may feel tender and sore, but the most intense pain will be felt at the point of sickness. It is easier to misdiagnose this condition than it is to miss it altogether, because the symptoms are substantial.

There are likely to be fever like symptoms; dizziness, hot and cold flushes, agitation, sweating, and swelling all around the face and neck. This occurs because there is an infected part of the mouth and bacteria has accumulated there. It is much the same as getting an infection in any other part of the body. The immune system will try to fight it off, but it may need some help from antibiotics and other medications.

It is surprisingly common for tooth decay and root infections to be allowed to progress into abscesses, but only among patients who do not keep up with regular dental appointments. Ordinarily, the treatment for a tooth infection is a routine root canal. This is performed under anesthetic, without pain, and it removes the harmful bacteria from the mouth. If you have a root infection, you must consult your dentist for advice.

This handy guide to everything that you ever wanted to know about dealing with a dental abscess will explain why treatment is so important.

Understanding How and Why Abscesses Form

The medical abscess is not restricted to the mouth. These infected swellings can develop anywhere that bacteria had been allowed to accumulate and multiply. However, dental abscesses are almost always a result of infected teeth. They can be caused by lacerations to the inside of the mouth, but this is slightly rarer. The saliva has mildly antibacterial properties, so cuts and lesions in the oral tissue tend to get conquered easily.

The problem with tooth infections (or root infections, to be accurate) is that they occur below the gum line. They do not benefit from the cleansing properties of saliva. Instead, if a cavity develops underneath a tooth, it fills up with bacteria and the root of the tooth becomes infected. While the gum tissue usually tries to drain out the infected fluid, there is nowhere for it to go but below the gum line.

The only real way to remove a tooth infection is with a root canal procedure. This involves drilling a hole through the top of the infected tooth, so that a dentist can insert a special tool. Once inside, a suction device is used to draw out all of the damaged pulp and nerves. The tooth is then left, essentially, empty. But it is later filled with an artificial material for strength and protection from further infection.

There is a small difference between a root abscess and a gum abscess, but the distinction is usually more important for the dentist than the patient. It is based on the precise place from which the abscess originates; sometimes next to the tooth, sometimes directly beneath it. Root infections do start off as abscesses. And, if dealt with quickly, they do not have to progress to them either. Once you have a painful facial swelling, you know that the infection has spread.

The Very Real Pain of Dealing with an Abscess

The presence of an abscess is an indication that the infection has spread to the jawbone and surrounding tissues. The swelling itself is pretty unpleasant. It is filled with pus, bacteria, and decaying white blood cells. It may turn into an open sore and weep profusely. If this occurs, treatment needs to be quick; if this material is shedding into the mouth, oral health will suffer.

As aforementioned, it is difficult for patients not to seek treatment for this condition. Even if you have a dental phobia, the pain would likely end up being too intense to tolerate. It is extremely rare in this day and age for a dental abscess to be lethal, but only because treatment is so readily available. Infections are very mild things, but they can overwhelm the immune system and need a secondary attack in the form of medication.

This is what will happen if you take your abscess to a dentist. They are likely to prescribe you antibiotics right away to reduce the symptoms and bring your fever back under control. Once this has happened, repair work can be considered. You will also be prescribed some painkillers to take while you wait for treatment. Whether or not the infected tooth can be saved will depend entirely on how much damage has been done.

The dentist has a responsibility to do everything possible to save it, so you can rest assured that if the tooth can be kept, it will be. If it is too decayed to remain in the mouth, the dentist will extract it and discuss replacement options with you at a later date. The earlier that you seek treatment for a dental abscess, the better the chance of saving the tooth. If you attend regular dental check-ups, it is unlikely that an abscess could ever form without being noticed.

Determining If You Have an Abscessed Tooth

Aside from the pain, there will be a number of other symptoms. If you think that you might have an abscess, keep an eye out for these. A tooth that is this infected will usually darken in colour. This is caused by necrotic (dead) pulp tissue seeping into the porous parts of the tooth. If you have a noticeably dark tooth in your mouth, consult a dentist.

You may develop a pinkish protrusion in the gum tissue, around the infected tooth. This will look like a spot or pimple. It is filled with pus and needs to be drained by a specialist. A ‘fistula’ of this kind if a sign that your body is trying to rid itself of the bacteria. It will usually be accompanied by a foul taste in the mouth and chronic bad breath.

It is possible for a tooth to be heavily infected and for there to be no pain to indicate this. What this means is that the tooth has died. It can no longer send out pain signals and will probably have to be extracted. However, if you are not in any pain, it means that the infection has not spread to your gum tissue and jawbone. You still have a chance to fight off the bacteria before the abscess gets really nasty.

This kind of infected tooth will be picked up routine exams and check-ups, so you can trust your dentist to spot the signs and respond accordingly. Once again, if you keep up with appointments, it is very unlikely that an infection will be allowed to progress very far. This is what specialists are trained to identify and treat. If your dentist suspects that there might be a problem, you will be given an x ray diagnosis.

The Recommended Treatment for an Abscess

There is a two pronged approach to treating dental infections. The first step is antibiotics. This makes sure that the condition is not allowed to progress and make the patient sick. The second involves dealing with the tooth itself. It has to be drained and cleaned of the nasty bacteria. The main focus at first, however, is on controlling the symptoms – antibiotics are key.

For adults, a root canal is the recommended treatment if there is a good chance that the tooth can be saved. The procedure will usually have to be followed up with the fitting of an artificial crown, implant, or bridge. This comes later though, because the tooth is in danger until the bacteria and infection is removed. The empty tooth (cleared of infection) is filled with a substance that acts like a barrier. It stops further infection from taking hold.

For infants, root canals are not suitable. The procedure removes the living nerve tissue inside the tooth and infant teeth need this material to continue developing. Even if the infected tooth is a baby tooth, taking out the pulp and nerves may cause damage to the developing adult teeth underneath. The good news is that baby teeth can be safely lost.

They will later be replaced with mature teeth anyway. It is very important that this not be used as a reason to avoid treatment and dental care. As abscesses are very painful, children of any age need to be examined and treated by a specialist. Once the health of the mouth has been restored, the parents must take precautions to make sure that the condition of the teeth do not deteriorate again.

The consequences of an infection are potentially more serious for patients with weaker immune systems. For example, babies, children, elderly people, and patients with underlying health conditions. If you develop a dental infection while pregnant, you must seek treatment very quickly, because the condition is dangerous for the baby.

Anybody in any one of these at risk groups should consider themselves in more danger from infection. It is the responsibility of a dentist to make sure that at risk patients always have access to an affordable root canal if needed. Registering with a high quality dental membership plan is advised. It will help you to settle the cost of urgent treatments and make sure that you do not go without care.

Soothing the Pain and Alleviating the Symptoms

For the most part, home remedies will do little to alleviate the pain of an abscess. They certainly cannot treat it alone. However, they may lessen the pain a little, so could be worth a try if you are waiting to receive treatment. The best advice is to gently gargle salt water solution several times a day. It is a mild disinfectant and will help to keep your mouth clean.

As odd as it sounds, placing a damp teabag over the infected area can help with pain relief. Just make sure that you are very delicate, because the last thing that you want to do is burst any swellings or fistulas. You may be able to take stronger painkillers to control the intensity of the symptoms, but you must check with your dentist first.

Usually, things like aspirin are strictly forbidden, because they thin out the blood. This then makes it harder for the dentist to perform treatments on the tooth. Usually, you will not have much time to wait before the root canal or drainage procedure is scheduled. There shouldn’t be too much in which you have to control the pain independently.

How to Prevent a Dental Abscess from Developing

The single best way to prevent dental abscesses is to maintain a good dental health routine. If you keep your teeth strong and free from cavities, you will never get an infection. So, brush and floss twice a day, avoid eating too many sugary snacks, and stay on familiar terms with your dental specialist.

The more regularly you attend check-ups, the more chance you give your dentist to pick up on signs of trouble. If you crack, chip, or fracture a tooth, do not delay treatment. Seek advice from a dentist right away, even if you are not in any pain. The earlier that you deal with it, the easier the tooth will be repaired and saved.

Knowing What to Expect from a Tooth Extraction

If it turns out that you need the infected tooth pulling, your dentist will perform a routine extraction. This will be carried out under anesthetic, so you will not feel a thing. They will carefully cut away the gum tissue around the problem tooth. Then, after peeling it back and exposing the root, they will fully remove it. Sometimes this is done in one go and sometimes it is done in a few pieces.

Once extracted, the dentist will stitch the gum tissue back together. The patient is then asked to bite down on a piece of medical gauze. This starts the clotting process. It is vital that the wound clots, because a barrier is needed to prevent bleeding and stop bacteria from entering the empty socket. It is very important that you do not dislodge, disturb, or break this barrier during the healing process.

To maintain it, brush very carefully around the empty socket (do not brush the socket). Gargle twice a day with salt water solution and do not, under any circumstances, play with or poke at the wound. It can take a few weeks for the tenderness and swelling to subside, so it is a good idea to keep taking approved painkillers. If you need stronger medication, because the pain is too intense, talk to your dentist.

The average extraction takes around three to four weeks to fully heal. For the first 2-3 days, you are advised to stick to soft foods and entirely avoid cigarettes and alcohol. For at least twenty four hours after the procedure, do not get involved with any heavy lifting or manual labour. You will still be drowsy from the anesthetic and you risk delaying the healing process. In the event of any complications or problems, do not forget that your dentist is on hand.

Recovering from a Dental Abscess

Ultimately, the success of your recovery from an abscess is entirely down to you. The more closely you follow aftercare instructions and respect the fact that your mouth needs to heal, the quicker and easier things will be. In the long run, treatment will always alleviate or completely eradicate tooth pain, so the rewards are worth the temporary discomfort.

You will not get seriously sick if you seek treatment for your abscess quickly. The number of cases in which infection has led to death are minute, but the condition is not one which should be left to chance. Ordinarily, root infections are quick to solve, easy to recover from, and leave little lasting damage. In the event of an extraction, remember that an empty socket can later be filled with an implant, bridge piece, or other artificial replacement. 

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