Ask a Dentist

November 12, 2021

Q: What Is A Dental Abscess?

Man touching his face whilst wincing in pain

If you notice an unusual lump on your gums causing you pain, you may have a dental abscess. This spot is a buildup of pus inside your teeth or gums typically caused by bacterial infection.

Bacteria tend to form in the mouth as a result of poor dental hygiene (not brushing your teeth twice a day and not flossing). If plaque isn’t removed by proper brushing and flossing, bacteria may spread inside the soft tissue of the tooth or gums resulting in an abscess.

Types Of Abscesses

A dental abscess can occur in different regions of the mouth for different reasons. The two major dental abscess subtypes are:

  • Periodontal abscess. Also known as a gum abscess, this occurs in the gums at the side of a tooth root. If you suffer from periodontitis (gum disease), you're at a greater risk of developing this abscess.
  • Periapical abscess. This abscess starts in the soft tissues of the tooth. It usually occurs as a result of an untreated cavity, an injury or trauma. It’s common among children and adults.

Do I Have A Dental Abscess?

The main symptom of a dental abscess is throbbing pain in the mouth. The pain can also start suddenly and become more intense over time. In some cases, the pain may radiate to the ear, jawbone and neck. It may also cause referred pain, making other teeth tender and sensitive.

Other signs and symptoms of a dental abscess are:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing or biting
  • Fever
  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • A sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting, salty fluid in your mouth 
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

How Should I Treat It?

If you experience any symptoms, visit your dentist immediately. Most likely, your dentist will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection before performing any further treatment. Depending on the type of abscess, a dentist may be able to save your tooth with a root canal treatment. However, there are cases where the tooth may need to be pulled.

According to Colgate, ignoring an abscess can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications such as sepsis (an infection occurring throughout the body).

You can avoid a dental abscess by practicing good oral care at home. At Dental Image Therapy Centres, we always recommend seeing your dental professional every six months. If you have questions about your oral care routine or have a history of gum infection, contact us today at our Winnipeg clinics in Garden City Shopping Centre and St. Vital Centre. We’ll answer all your questions and determine whether you need treatment for a dental abscess.

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