Abscessed tooth; how to care for a tooth abscess

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An abscessed tooth is an infection caused by tooth decay, periodontal disease or a cracked tooth. These problems can let bacteria enter the pulp (the soft tissue of a tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue) and can lead to pulp death. When pus builds up at the root tip in the jaw bone, it forms a pus-pocket called an abscess. If the abscess is not treated, it can lead to a serious infection in the jaw bone, teeth and surrounding tissues.

What causes dental abscesses?

Your mouth is full of bacteria, which form a sticky film on your teeth called plaque. If you do not keep your teeth clean, acids produced by the bacteria in plaque can damage your teeth and gums, leading to tooth decay or gum disease.

The following can increase your chances of developing a dental abscess:

  • poor oral hygiene – plaque can build-up on your teeth if you do not floss and brush your teeth regularly
  • consuming lots of sugary or starchy food and drink – these can encourage the growth of bacteria in plaque and may lead to decay that can result in an abscess
  • an injury or previous surgery to your teeth or gums – bacteria can get into any damaged parts of the teeth or gums
  • having a weakened immune system – this includes people with certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and those having treatment, including steroid medication or chemotherapy

Tooth Abscess Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, you might have a dental abscess, and you should see a dental professional as soon as possible:

Gum Symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Open sores on the gums
  • Presence of a small bump (gumboil) near the infected tooth on either the inside or outside of the gums

Tooth Symptoms:

  • Pain while chewing
  • Pus around the edge of the infected tooth
  • Persistent tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods

Other Symptoms:

  • Swelling elsewhere on the face such as the jaw or in the glands of the neck
  • A bitter taste in the mouth
  • Extremely foul breath

Are there any complications?

It’s important to have any abscessed tooth treated by a dentist. Even if it’s already ruptured, you’ll want to have the area examined and cleaned by your doctor to make sure the infection doesn’t spread.

Left untreated, an infection can spread to your jaw and other parts of your head and neck, including your brain. In rare cases, it can even lead to sepsis. This is a life-threatening complication of an infection.

Go to the emergency room if you have an abscessed tooth accompanied by:

  • high fever
  • facial swelling
  • difficulty swallowing
  • rapid heart rate
  • confusion

These are all signs of a serious infection that needs immediate treatment.

Dental Abscess Dangers 

If you experience any dental abscess symptoms, here are some things not to do:

  • Don’t delay: See a dental professional as soon as possible. If treated promptly you may be able to avoid having the infected tooth removed.
  • Don’t stop your oral hygiene routine: Continue to brush and floss.
  • Don’t be fooled if your dental abscess stops hurting: Pain associated with a dental abscess may go away if the tooth root has died. But a dead tooth root doesn’t mean the infection is gone. In fact, the infection from a dental abscess can still spread.

Abscessed Tooth Diagnosis

Abscessed Tooth Diagnosis

 

Diagnosis is usually achieved based on clinical symptoms or radiographic presentation. An X-ray can reveal bone loss along the ends of the dental roots indicating an infection or abscess. Clinical examination can also confirm the infection and may include pressure tests or simulation of the dental nerve with temperature (sensitivity to warm or cold foods or fluids).

Relieving pain from a dental abscess

Relieving pain from a dental abscess

 

While you’re waiting to see a dentist, painkillers can help control your pain. Ibuprofen is the preferred painkiller for dental abscesses, but if you’re unable to take it for medical reasons, you can take paracetamol instead.

Aspirin should not be given to children under 16. If 1 painkiller does not relieve the pain, taking both paracetamol and ibuprofen at the doses shown in the medicine leaflet may help.

It may also help to:

  • avoid hot or cold food and drink if it makes the pain worse
  • try eating cool, soft foods if possible, using the opposite side of your mouth
  • use a soft toothbrush and temporarily avoid flossing around the affected tooth

These measures can help relieve your symptoms temporarily, but you should not use them to delay getting help from a dentist.

How is an abscessed tooth treated?

Treatment for an abscessed tooth focuses on clearing up the infection and relieving pain. Depending on your symptoms, your dentist might start with a dental X-ray. This will help them see whether the infection has spread to other areas.

Depending on the type and severity of your abscess, treatment options include:

  • Draining the abscess. Your dentist will make a small cut in the abscess to drain the pus. They’ll follow up by cleaning the area with a saline solution.
  • A root canal procedure. A root canal involves drilling into the affected tooth to drain the abscess and remove any infected pulp. Next, your dentist will fill and seal the pulp chamber, which holds pulp, and the root canal. They may also cap your tooth with a crown to strengthen it. A crown procedure is usually done during a separate appointment.
  • Tooth extraction. If your tooth is too damaged, your dentist might remove it before draining the abscess. Your dentist may pull the tooth if it can’t be saved and then drain the abscess.
  • Antibiotics. If the infection has spread beyond the abscessed area or you have a weakened immune system, your dentist might prescribe oral antibiotics to help clear the infection.
  • Removal of foreign object. If your abscess is caused by a foreign object in your gums, your dentist will remove it. They’ll finish up by cleaning the area with a saline solution.

If you can’t get in to see your dentist right away, you can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to help with the pain. Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water may also help.

Healing After Abscess Procedure

No matter how your dental abscess is treated, you can protect your mouth as it heals, and help prevent future tooth decay by following a regular oral hygiene routine that includes twice-daily tooth brushing and daily flossing. The product line includes:

  • Toothpaste:  Toothpasteaddresses these areas dentists check most: sensitivity, cavities, plaque, gingivitis, tartar, stains and breath.
  • Soft Floss: Flossing your teeth might sound like a painful prospect after treatment for a dental abscess, but flossing is an important part of your oral care routine.

Home remedies

Saltwater rinse 

Saltwater rinse

 

Rinsing your mouth with salt water is an easy and affordable option for temporary relief of your abscessed tooth. It can also promote wound healing and healthy gums.

To use this remedy:

  1. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of normal table salt with 1/2 cup of warm tap water.
  2. Rinse your mouth with the salt water. Try to swish it around inside your mouth for at least two minutes.
  3. Spit the water out.

Repeat up to three times per day.

Baking soda

Baking soda is another affordable option for treating an abscessed tooth. You may even already have some in your kitchen cabinet. Baking soda is excellent for removing plaque in the mouth. It also has antibacterial properties.

To use this remedy:

  1. Mix 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda with 1/2 cup of water and a pinch of salt.
  2. Swish the mixture in your mouth for up to five minutes.
  3. Spit out, and repeat until you’ve finished the mixture.

You can repeat this up to two times per day.

Oregano essential oil

Oregano oil is an essential oil that can be purchased in a health food store or drugstore. Oregano oil is an antibacterial and antioxidant. It may help reduce the swelling and pain of an abscessed tooth. Be sure to dilute any essential oil with a carrier oil to prevent further irritation.

To use this remedy:

  1. Mix a few drops of oregano essential oil to 1 ounce of a carrier oil.
  2. Apply a few drops of this mixture to a cotton ball or swab.
  3. Hold the cotton ball on the infected area for two to three minutes.
  4. Remove the cotton ball or swab. Leave the mixture on for at least 10 minutes, then rinse.

Repeat up to three times per day.

Cold compress

Cold compress

 

A cold compress will help reduce pain and swelling.

To use this remedy:

  1. Place ice cubes in a dry towel.
  2. Hold the compress against your skin near the affected area.
  3. The compress can be used for 15-minute intervals.

This may be repeated multiple times per day.

Fenugreek tea 

Fenugreek has antibacterial properties and a long history of use as a home remedy for healing wounds and reducing inflammation.

To use this remedy:

  1. Make a fenugreek tea by heating 1 cup of water in a saucepan and stirring in 1 teaspoon of ground fenugreek.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool.
  3. Apply a small amount to the affected area using a cotton ball.
  4. Repeat up to three times per day.

Clove essential oil

Clove oil has been used since ancient times as a natural toothache remedy. It may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It comes in diluted forms as well as the very concentrated clove essential oil. If using the essential oil form, remember to dilute it (3 to 5 drops of essential oil in an ounce of a carrier oil).

You can use this remedy several ways:

  • Apply the diluted oil to the affected area by placing a few drops on a cotton ball or swab.
  • You can also make a clove oil mouthwash by placing a few drops of the oil into a small glass of water.

Clove oil may be used up to three times per day.

Thyme essential oil

Thyme oil is another potent essential oil that may kill parasites, fight bacteria, and reduce swelling. Be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil before use.

You can use this remedy several ways:

  • Diluted thyme oil can be applied to the affected area with a cotton ball or swab.
  • You can also make a mouthwash by adding a few drops of diluted thyme oil to a small glass of water.

Use the thyme oil up to three times per day.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent remedy for fighting a bacterial infection. It can also help reduce plaque and bleeding gums.

To use this remedy:

  1. Mix equal parts 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with water.
  2. Swish the solution around in your mouth, then spit. Make sure not to swallow any of the solution.

Hydrogen peroxide may be used multiple times per day.

Oil pulling

Oil pulling is another ancient means of oral hygiene that’s been used to treat mouth ailments. It’s believed that oil pulling removes toxins from the teeth and gums. Limited studies suggest that oil pulling may be a good treatment for bleeding gums, bad breath, and reducing bacteria. However, there’s not enough scientific evidence to confirm whether it’s effective for use in oral health.

Good oils for oil pulling include:

  • raw coconut oil
  • sesame oil
  • olive oil

Oil pulling is recommended in the morning on an empty stomach.

To use this remedy:

  1. Take 1 tablespoon of your chosen oil into your mouth.
  2. Vigorously swish the oil around through your teeth for up to 20 minutes.
  3. Don’t swallow the oil. Spit the oil out in a garbage can — not your sink — to avoid clogged pipes.

Garlic

Garlic

 

Garlic is another natural remedy with an ancient history of many beneficial therapeutic uses, including as a pain manager and bacteria killer.

To use this remedy:

  1. Make a paste by crushing a fresh clove of garlic.
  2. Rub the paste on the infected area.

This can be repeated multiple time per day.

Preventing dental abscesses

Preventing dental abscesses

 

The best way to prevent an abscessed tooth is to ensure regular examinations by a dentist to monitor and address any cavities present in the mouth. Some dentists recommend that radiographs should be taken at least twice a year to monitor the health of the maxillary and mandibular jaw bones.

To do this, you should:

  • use floss or an interdental brush at least once a day to clean between your teeth and under the gum line
  • brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day – spending at least 2 minutes each time
  • avoid rinsing your mouth with water or mouthwash after brushing because this washes the protective toothpaste away – just spit out any excess toothpaste
  • cut down on sugary and starchy food and drinks – particularly between meals or shortly before going to bed
  • visit your dentist regularly – your dentist can suggest how often you should have a check-up, based on your oral health