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What Causes an Abscessed Tooth?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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If you develop an abscessed tooth, then a small hole or pocket will have formed next to the tooth. This hole will be full of pus, and if it does not naturally drain away, then an abscess will appear. The most common causes of an abscessed tooth are gum disease and cavities.

Gum disease, or as it is medically termed, periodontal disease, occurs due to a build up of bacteria in the plaque around the gums and teeth. Gum disease is an infection of the bones and tissues that support the teeth. It can be very mild, in which case there will only be bleeding when the teeth and gums are brushed. If left untreated, it may develop into a serious condition resulting in tooth loss.

Cavities that can cause an abscess are holes that appear in the teeth. Cavities are usually caused by tooth decay. Plaque causes acid to eat away at the teeth and dissolve through the outer tooth wall. Serious cavities must be filled by a dentist in order to stop the decay and prevent any further destruction to the tooth.

Having a dry mouth may also contribute to an abscessed tooth. Dry mouths are a contributory factor to dental cavities, which may lead to an abscess. Chewing sugarless gum and drinking liquid regularly should solve the dry mouth problem. If not, a doctor should be able to prescribe medication to help with the problem.

There are a few symptoms of an abscessed tooth, including bad breath and a throbbing pain when chewing or eating food. The gums may look red and swollen, and a swelling in may appear in the face and/or jaw. Some people have fever-like symptoms, and a bump may appear on either side of the gum area.

If left untreated, the infection is likely to spread. Gum and bone deterioration may become so bad that the tooth may have to be removed. If the deterioration has reached this stage, the pain may have disappeared, but this does not mean that the infection has left the gum area.

Treatment for an abscess is determined based on how infected the tooth has become. Antibiotics can help the infection clear up. The tooth may need to be drilled to allow the infection to drain away. The gum area may also need to be drilled into in order for the infection to drain. If the infection is substantial, then root canal treatment may be required. In extreme cases, the tooth will be removed.

An abscessed tooth is easily prevented by regular brushing and flossing. Sticking to a healthy, low sugar diet and making frequent visits to the dentist are also helpful. An untreated tooth infection can spread to other body areas and eventually become extremely detrimental to your health.

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Discussion Comments
By anon328513 — On Apr 04, 2013

Often you can go to dental schools in the area (there is one at the University of Houston here) and they will treat you for a much cheaper cost with no insurance. You have to pay up front, but it's an option if you don't have insurance.

By anon284436 — On Aug 10, 2012

I have braces and recently had spacers put in. I am on vacation out of state and my inner gum (almost the roof of my mouth) is swollen and painful right in between my two front teeth, and in front it looks almost as if the gum is growing over the gap on my front tooth. I'm only 15 and quite frightened because I am obsessive about oral hygiene. Please help asap.

By anon129323 — On Nov 23, 2010

Wow, I don't know what to tell you. I have two cavities that are just killing me and they hurt so bad. I think i should go to the dentist but i don't have the money. what should i do about my teeth?

By anon118341 — On Oct 13, 2010

i went to the emergency room about 10 days ago because my face was swollen and my tooth was killing me. the er prescribed me a powerful antibiotic and pain pills. told me to contact my dentist asap. the dentist told me i had a huge abscess infection and it was under a crowned tooth and had spread to the soft tissue in my face.

they sent me to a periodontist and he extracted the tooth and told me the infection ate away the tissue and had breached the wall to my sinus cavity. sorry, forgot to tell you that it was upper molar. went home with more antibiotics to go along with the other other antibiotics. i was in pure pain for three days and started to get a little better, then it got worse.

all my teeth started hurting and my face started hurting again. and yesterday when i was gargling/swishing the extracted tooth whole collapsed and i felt a stinging and burning in my eye and throat and obviously the breach between my extraction and my sinus cavity was apparent.

immediately my nose ran like a faucet and the pressure on my teeth was not so bad. all my teeth started to feel better but the extraction space was hurting, stinging and talking and breathing hurt. i called the dentist and he saw me today. he says that the infection ate through and there is nothing he can do that i need to see an oral surgeon.

he put dental glue over the whole and says he hopes it will blood clot on its own. my eyes are bothering me and i have a headache. I'm scared that i should be better after taking all these antibiotics and i don't know what else the infection has done to me and my health.

What should i do? i have chills and feel unwell. Please advise?

By anon17010 — On Aug 20, 2008

how do i get rid of the pain?

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