A dental abscess is a build-up of pus that occurs when an infection hits a specific part of the mouth. In this case, a periodontal abscess (also called a lateral abscess) is one that affects the teeth and other bone structures in the mouth. Swift diagnosis and periodontal abscess treatment offer the best chance of a full recovery and no lasting complications due to infection.

What is a periodontal abscess?

Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. suffer from tooth abscesses every year, some of which are responsible for the nearly 850,000 dental-related emergency room visits annually.

Unlike other types of dental abscess that are found in the soft gum tissues and dental pulp, a periodontal abscess originates in the supporting bones of the teeth.

What are periodontal abscess symptoms?

The main symptom of a periodontal abscess is pain, but there are other warning signs.

  • Pain and pressure that increases when you lay down
  • Increased sensitivity to hot and cold food and drink
  • A rush of foul-tasting liquid when you bite down, with a corresponding temporary decrease in pain
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • General feeling of malaise, or just feeling “off” or unwell
  • Fever
  • Radiating pain that spreads to the ear, jaw, or neck

In some severe cases, periodontal abscesses can cause difficulty with breathing. At this stage it is important to see a doctor immediately. If you are not able to get an appointment with your dentist or family doctor, a weekend dentist can help. If none of these options are available to you, a trip to an emergency dentist or the emergency room is in order.

A dental abscess may not cause any pain at first, and the pain may be episodic, especially as the abscess swells and bursts repeatedly. Patients may experience a pain-free period, followed by a slow build up of pressure and pain in the affected tooth.

Types of abscesses

In addition to a periodontal abscess, there are also the following two types of dental abscess:

  • Gingival abscess: This type of abscess involves the gingival (gum) tissue only. It can be located very close to the tooth but does not occur as a result of tooth infection.
  • Periapical abscess: A periapical abscess begins in the soft pulp inside the tooth with an infection of the dentin.

Symptoms for both of these abscesses are similar to the symptoms for periodontal abscess.

What are the causes of periodontal abscesses?

Periodontal abscesses are opportunistic infections. Even healthy mouths are host to millions of bacteria. This bacteria can cause infection, but it needs a place to go. The easiest place for bacteria to enter the teeth is through small cracks in the teeth.

These cracks can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Bruxism: Teeth clenching and grinding wears down enamel and can cause cracks
  • Trauma: An injury to the teeth can cause cracks or openings in the teeth for bacteria
  • Previous dental work: Teeth that have had previous cavities filled or have been treated with a dental restoration such as a crown are vulnerable to periodontal abscess

Poor dental hygiene remains a major risk factor for periodontal abscess. When teeth are not brushed and flossed regularly, bacteria can build up. More bacteria means more opportunity for infection.

Another risk factor is a high-sugar, high-acid, and high-fat diet. The bacteria that causes tooth decay thrives on sugar, acid, and fat. Feeding it copious amounts of soda, sugary treats, and processed foods will only make it harder to eliminate bacteria with brushing and flossing.

How dangerous is an abscessed tooth?

Whether you have a periodontal abscess, a gingival abscess, or a parietal abscess, getting treatment quickly is very important.

If left untreated, an abscessed tooth can lead to more serious health issues, including:

  • Sinus infections
  • Formation of a hollow tunnel in the bone and skin called a fistula
  • Infection that travels through the bl