You are getting ready for bed one night when you realize that the aching pain in one of your teeth that you have been feeling all day has gotten more intense. Thinking back, you realize that this pain has been there for more than a few days, throbbing in the background when you go to bed. As you try to fall asleep, you realize this may be more than a simple toothache. Turns out, it could be an abscessed tooth.

What is an abscessed tooth?

While abscessed teeth are not an everyday occurrence, they start with a very common problem: a cavity.

Teeth weakened by tooth decay are prime targets for the bacteria that cause infection. When this bacteria reaches the soft tissue inside of the root canal (the pulp), this can cause a tooth abscess. The infected area begins to become inflamed and to produce thick, yellow fluid (pus) at either the root of the tooth or between the tooth and gum.

Left untreated, abscessed teeth can cause extensive damage to the rest of the teeth and make eating, talking, and sleeping nearly impossible. In the most extreme cases, abscessed teeth can be fatal.

Do I have an abscessed tooth?

Approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. suffer from abscessed teeth annually. Many cases could have been prevented if they knew the warning signs. In 2009, the Pew Charitable Trust estimated that preventable dental conditions, including abscessed teeth, were responsible for over 850,000 emergency room visits.

It’s not unusual for people to ignore the symptoms of a tooth abscess. Abscessed tooth symptoms often begin as a minor annoyance that mimics the symptoms of cavity. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to more pain and a more complicated treatment. Abscess tooth pain is potentially the first sign of infection, but many people ignore it, thinking that it is a simple toothache or something less serious.

If you’re experiencing tooth pain, here are abscessed tooth symptoms to watch out for:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Persistent and throbbing toothache
  • Pain in the jaw and neck
  • Difficulty biting or chewing without pain
  • Fever
  • Swelling or redness in the gums
  • Painful or swollen lymph nodes
  • Bitter taste in the mouth or exceptionally bad breath
  • An open sore in the mouth that is draining bad-tasting fluid

Some of these symptoms may be similar to other types of illness, but taken together they can indicate a tooth abscess.

One of the most dangerous signs is a tooth that was previously painful but then stops hurting without treatment. Many people might think this is an abscess that has healed by itself, but the more likely explanation is that the infection has killed the nerve completely.

Risk factors for abscessed teeth

Risk factors for tooth abscesses are the same as risk factors for cavity. Poor dental hygiene and a lack of dental visits are the main reasons that tooth abscess goes undetected. If a person has a diet high in sugar that can also make them more susceptible to infection once the teeth begin to decay.

Grinding teeth (bruxism) or clenching the jaw can also lead to small cracks in the teeth, inviting bacteria in. Likewise, trauma to the mouth or jaw that cracks the teeth can also be a risk factor for tooth abscess.

Is an abscessed tooth dangerous?

Abscessed tooth dangers cannot be underestimated. There are a number of serious medical issues that can be caused by an untreated abscessed tooth, including:

  • Sinus infection
  • Formation of a hollow tunnel in the bone and skin called a fistula
  • Infection that travels through the blood vessels and into the brain, causing infection, coma, and possibly death
  • Infection that encompasses the entire mouth and face, eventually restricting airways
  • Complications of pre-existing conditions, including diabetes

If are experiencing abscessed tooth symptoms, it is important to seek out treatment with your dentist immediately. If you don’t already have a primary dentist, an emergency Scottsdale dentist can help.

How to get rid of a tooth abscess?

Treating an abscessed tooth begins with a priority trip to the dentist. They will examine your tooth to diagnose the extent of the problem. Then, they’ll proceed with any of the following treatment options as needed.

  1. Drain the abscess: In order to get rid of the infection-causing bacteria, your dentist will open up and drain the abscess. They will then rinse the area thoroughly with a saline solution.
  2. Perform a root canal: Draining the abscess is the first step, but the damaged and diseased dental pulp must be completely removed to prevent re-infection. Your dentist will drill out the infected material and then seal and cap the tooth.
  3. Extract the tooth: If the abscessed tooth cannot be saved, your dentist will pull the effected tooth.
  4. Prescribe antibiotics: Antibiotics for tooth abscess are a common, first-line treatment to eliminate infection. It is important to follow the prescription directions exactly, taking the full course of antibiotics even when you begin to feel better.

There are some home remedies that may provide minor relief in the event you need to wait a day or two to see a dentist. Rinsing the mouth with salt water, pressing a cold tea bag on the affected area, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are temporary fixes. However, these do not replace a complete dental exam and diagnosis.

Regular dental care is key to maintaining healthy teeth. Contact AZ Dentist today to schedule your regular dental cleaning and checkup at one of our clinics in the Phoenix area.