Dental Abscesses: What Are They?

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dentist doing treatment of dental abscesses

If you’ve had a dental procedure such as a root canal lately, your dentist in NW Calgary may have warned you to avoid certain activities to prevent an abscessed tooth. Or, you might already be experiencing pain and swelling of the gums—symptoms that could be signs of an abscess. But what are dental abscesses? Here, we explain the condition, its causes, and treatment of an issue ranging from discomfort to fatality.

What Qualifies for Dental Abscesses?

Dental abscesses are an infection of the mouth, throat, jaw, and face that begins with a tooth infection. The condition can start as periodontal disease, a deep cavity, cracked tooth, jaw trauma, and sometimes due to a prior dental procedure such as an implant or extractions.

Often, infections are a result of a lack of proper dental care. They also might be from dental procedures that are getting older, hence starting to leak and fail.

The condition can become very painful, especially when the tissues become more inflamed due to the pressure caused by the abscesses.

Infection to Other Parts of the Body

Dental abscesses can be dangerous because the infection won’t always stay local—it can spread to other body parts.

Bacteria from the tooth can move into the gums, cheeks, throat, tissues below the tongue, jaw, and facial bones.

A gum or gingival abscess may occur due to trauma to the gum tissues. Periodontal abscesses result from an infection that has extended into the gum areas. These start on the surfaces on the outside of the tooth. Periapical pimples occur when an infection starts on the dental pulp.

Pus may collect in the area of infection as the body’s immune system fights to keep the disease from spreading. The infection may not always be painful, but the condition becomes progressively painful until the abscesses rupture or drain.

Extreme dental abscesses can result in death if the infections spread to the brain.

Causes of Dental Abscesses

The cause of the condition is the growth of bacteria from a cavity into the soft tissues, jaws, and neck. An infected tooth that doesn’t receive proper dental care can cause abscesses to form. Poor oral hygiene, including not brushing, rinsing, or flossing correctly, may also cause the condition.
Other factors that can increase the chances of an abscessed tooth include consumption of alcohol, smoking, poor diet, certain medical conditions, and medications.

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase your chances of developing tooth abscesses:

  • Dry mouth: A dry mouth can contribute to the risk of tooth decay, which can cause spots. A dry mouth can be a side effect of certain medications or ageing issues.
  • A diet high in sugar: Frequently consuming foods and drinks rich in sugar, such as sweets and sodas, can cause dental cavities and turn into dental abscesses.
  • Weakened immune system or autoimmune disorders: Some people with underlying medical issues also may be more susceptible to developing dental abscesses. They include people with autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome and other conditions that weaken the immune system, including diabetes, chemotherapy and post-radiation care, and immunosuppressive therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Dental Abscesses

The common symptoms of dental abscesses include:

  • Toothache and pain in jaws
  • Swelling
  • Redness of the mouth and face

In cases of advanced infection, one can experience sensitivity on one or more teeth, followed by other complications such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Difficulty in breathing, swallowing and opening the mouth

If the condition remains untreated, the infection can spread through the bones and damage adjacent teeth, which calls for urgent treatment.

Often, the signs associated with dental abscesses include:

  • Gum inflammation
  • Deep cavities
  • Tenderness on the face with a touch
  • Oral or facial swelling
  • Drainage of pus
  • Limited ability to open the mouth

If dental abscesses spread to the adjacent area, it’s common to find tenderness or palpation to touch the infected area. Dental abscesses may be mild or extremely severe, so there can be no painful symptoms.

Depending on several factors, such as the patient’s health, the abscesses may also be chronic or acute, stable, or rapidly spreading. The condition may sometimes spread through the bones to the bloodstream. The spread can damage organs or even result in the patient’s death.

Diagnosis of Dental Abscesses

Medical experts recommend all individuals visit the dentist’s office every month so that the dentist can spot any signs of dental abscesses.

The dentist or doctor can tell whether you have dental abscesses by:

Carrying out a physical examination to check whether there’s an abscess

Performing X-rays of the mouth to expose small spots that may be in the deepest parts of the tooth


Dentists treat this condition by removing the infection or performing a tooth canal procedure if the tooth is salvageable. They also can surgically drain the infection. In severe cases, they will have to remove the tooth.

At Valley Ridge Dental Centre, the treatments we provide depend on the location of the abscess. They include but are not limited to:

  • Incision: The dentist will cut out the spot and drain the pus, which contains infection-causing bacteria. The doctor admits a local anaesthetic during the procedure.
  • Root canal: Periapical areas require root canal therapy near you to remove the site. A drill will bore a hole into the enamel to drain the pus. Any damaged tissue will require removal from the pulp as well. A root filling replaces the tissue and prevents further infections.
  • Surgery: Patients with periapical abscesses or a recurring disease may need to have the infected tissue removed surgically. An oral surgeon performs the procedure. The surgeon will reshape the gum tissue and remove the periodontal pocket. If the dental abscesses persist even after the surgery, they may have to remove the entire tooth.
  • Antibiotics: Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics, such as amoxicillin and metronidazole. These medications can prevent the infection from spreading. However, antibiotics are not a substitute for treatment.

Pain Management

There are actions that you can take to relieve the pain while waiting for treatment, including:

  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol. However, if the patient has another underlying condition, such as asthma, stomach ulcers, or pregnancy, it is best to see a doctor first.
  • Avoiding drinking overly hot or cold drinks
  • Chewing on the side of the mouth without an abscess
  • Using a brush with soft bristles
  • Not flossing around the infected area

Need a Check-Up?

If you’re concerned that you may have an abscessed tooth, contact your dentist in NW Calgary today. We’ll set you up with an appointment to ensure optimal dental health.

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