What is a tooth abscess and when is it an emergency?

Published on June 05, 2022
What is a tooth abscess and when is it an emergency

A tooth abscess is a small pocket of pus that develops in a tooth when an infection is present. Having a tooth abscess is considered a dental emergency, so it’s important to contact your local National Dental Care practice as soon as possible.

This is because a tooth abscess that’s left untreated can lead to a much more serious infection in the jawbone, as well as in the teeth and surrounding tissues, which can potentially result in severe health complications.

In this article, we’ll provide more information on what a tooth abscess is, the signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess and what to do if you think you may have an abscessed tooth.

What’s the difference between a tooth abscess and a tooth infection?

A tooth infection can develop if you have a very deep cavity (such as a cavity that’s been left untreated), gum disease, or a crack in your tooth where bacteria can enter. The symptoms of a tooth infection may include the following:

  • Throbbing pain in your tooth
  • Pain in the tooth when biting down or chewing
  • Increased tooth sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks

A tooth abscess can occur when an untreated tooth infection spreads into the tooth root. There are two main types of dental abscesses: 

  • Periapical abscesses

    develop at the very tip of a tooth root
  • Periodontal abscesses

    form in the bone directly next to the affected tooth

A periodontal abscess may develop if you have advanced gum disease, as this can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth and form pockets, called periodontal pockets. Bacteria can develop inside these pockets, eventually leading to the formation of an abscess.

How do I know if I have a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess can often be painful, but not everyone will experience pain in the case of an abscessed tooth. Some of the other symptoms of a dental abscess include the following:

  • Swollen gums around the affected tooth
  • Pain in the tooth when biting down or chewing
  • A persistent foul taste in your mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Pain in the jaw

In severe cases of a dental abscess, a pimple can form on the gum, as well as bacteria spreading to other parts of the body. The signs that an infection has spread include swollen lymph nodes, facial swelling, fever, and a general sense of feeling unwell. In addition, severe tooth abscesses can sometimes cause difficulty with breathing and swallowing.

How do I know if my abscess is serious?

A tooth abscess will require emergency care from your dentist. If you’re concerned you may have an abscessed tooth, you should contact your local National Dental Care or DB Dental practice as soon as possible to arrange an emergency dental appointment.
During your consultation, your dentist will assess the severity of your condition and advise on the best course of treatment to address the abscess and prevent any further complications, as well as alleviate any symptoms you’re experiencing.

However, in more serious cases, your dental abscess will require you to seek urgent medical care. If you think you have a tooth infection that has spread - especially if you’re having trouble breathing or swallowing - you should go straight to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.

In severe cases, a tooth infection can spread to the brain and become a life-threatening condition, so it’s crucial to address this issue as quickly as possible.

Unsure whether your dental emergency requires a trip to the emergency dentist or the emergency doctor? Find out more here.

Speak to a National Dental Care emergency dentist about your dental health concerns.

If you have a tooth abscess, you should contact your dental practice immediately for a consultation - our emergency dental services are even available over the weekend - so we can help you get the treatment you need before the situation becomes more serious.

Remember, although emergency dental can be more expensive than standard treatment, seeing your dentist as soon as possible in the case of an emergency is always the safest and smartest choice.

Not only can a dentist alleviate painful symptoms and treat the issue before it leads to more serious health concerns, but getting treatment sooner rather than later can save you from much higher costs further down the line. You can find out more about the cost of emergency dental here.

Find your nearest National Dental Care dentist now for an emergency dental consultation.

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