Why does my Tooth Ache: Part 2: Dental Abscesses

Why does my Tooth Ache: Part 2: Dental Abscesses

In part 1 of our tooth ache series we discussed the most common cause of tooth aches, dental decay (put in a link to part 1?). We also discussed the importance of catching and treating tooth decay early. What happens when decay is left to progress without intervention? The bacteria and acids causing the decay can reach the pulp of the tooth, the innermost of the 3 layers of the tooth that contains blood vessels, nerves and living connective tissue. Once these bacteria and acids invade the dental pulp they cause infection and eventually even tooth death. Infection in the pulp can lead to an abscess. The treatment for an abscess is much more difficult, time consuming and expensive than the simple filling needed when tooth decay is caught early.

What is a Dental Abscess?


A dental abscess is essentially a pocket of pus that’s caused by a bacterial infection in your mouth. Doesn’t sound very pleasant does it? There are many types of dental abscesses but the two most common are a periapical abscess and a periodontal abscess. These two long, complicated sounding conditions have quite easy explanations! A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root of the tooth. A periapical abscess is most commonly caused by untreated tooth decay, as mentioned above. When the nerves and living tissue in the tooth pulp die they become inflamed and breakdown, leaving a pocket of pus, called a periapical abscess. A periodontal abscess occurs in the space between your tooth and gum. A periodontal abscess is most commonly caused by gum disease. Gum disease causes bone loss and deep pockets between the gums and teeth. Bacteria can get caught in these deep pockets causing infection and a pus-filled abscess.


What are the Symptoms of a Dental Abscess?

  • A visible “pimple” on the gums (not always present, don’t put off seeing your dentist just because there are no visual signs!)
  • Persistent, throbbing toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck or ear
  • Swollen, red gums
  • Pain when chewing or biting
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Facial redness and swelling
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Fever, trouble swallowing or difficulty breathing (these symptoms may be an indication the infections has spread to other areas in your body, if you can’t reach your dentist seek emergency care!)

How are dental abscesses treated?

The treatment for all types of dental abscesses involve draining the pus that has built up and removing the source of infection. For a periapical abscess a root canal is normally needed. A root canal is where your dentist will clean out the pus and infected/inflamed tissue from the roots of your teeth. Your dentist will then replace these infected tissues with a material that will keep the roots free from infection and contamination. A root canal procedure weakens the tooth as a lot of tooth material is removed! A crown is typically recommended to strengthen your tooth and keep it from breaking after the root canal treatment is completed. Periodontal abscesses can be trickier to treat. Your dentist will cut the abscess allowing the pus to drain. A dental hygiene appointment is then recommended to thoroughly clean around the tooth, removing the source of infection and smoothing the tooth and root surfaces so the gums can heal. If the gums do not heal or the infection reoccurs you may be referred to a gum specialist, a periodontist, for further treatment. Depending on the severity of your infection antibiotics can also be prescribed. If the abscess has progressed to the point of severely damaging the tooth or surrounding bone and gums it is likely your tooth will need to be removed. There are many options to replace a tooth that has been removed and our staff at Brentwood Dental Center would be more than happy to help you find the option best suited to your individual needs.

How can I prevent a dental abscess?


  • Both periodontal and periapical abscesses can be prevented by taking great care of your teeth at home.
  • Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day prevents bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease from building up on your teeth.
  • Using a toothpaste with fluoride strengthens teeth and prevents cavities.
  • Limiting sugary foods, pop and in between meal snacking helps to avoid tooth decay.
  • Visiting your dentist and dental hygienist regularly will not only keep your teeth and gums healthy but help us to catch decay and gum disease early before they even have a chance to develop into a dental abscess.

Prevention is key when it comes to oral health and at Brentwood Dental Centre we pride ourselves on customizing treatment plans to suit every person’s unique circumstances and needs. An abscess is a serious infection that can spread to the rest of your body if left untreated, so please do not hesitate to see contact us today for an appointment.

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