Dental abscesses are a common complaint for a lot of dental patients. They are usually caused by a bacterial infection, and are linked to poor diet and dental hygiene.
Although abscesses are common, treatment can be painful and inconvenient for a lot of people.
So, whilst you can be assured that there are treatment options available if you find yourself with a dental abscess, you might want to consider that age-old saying: prevention is better than cure.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about dental abscesses: their causes, symptoms and how to prevent them.
What are Dental Abscesses?
Abscesses are the result of an infection, which is usually caused by a specific kind of bacteria called staphylococcal (staph) bacteria. The abscess is essentially the body’s response to the staph bacteria coming in.
When staph bacteria enters your body, your body responds by sending white blood cells to the site of entry in an attempt to fight the infection. The result of your white blood cells’ interaction with the staph bacteria is an inflammation at the site of infection, which causes your skin to swell and nearby tissue to die off.
Pus is also produced; and this is made up of dead tissue, white blood cells and more staph bacteria. With the infection leading to holes being produced, the pus in turn fills up the holes that are left behind, which leads to the creation of the abscess.
An abscess is considered to be a ‘dental abscess’ if it forms in one of four places: inside the teeth, at the end of a tooth, in the gums or in the bone where the teeth are held in place. A dental abscess at the end of a tooth is a periapical abscess, whilst a dental abscess that is in the gum is a peridontal abscess.
Certain abscesses, like peridontal (gum) abscesses, look like a pimple has appeared on your gum – if you squeeze it, pus will come out.
You might end up getting more than one dental abscess, but oftentimes it is still related to that one tooth – if one dental abscess travels through the bone, it shows up in several spots.
The Risk of Dental Abscesses
The risks associated with dental abscesses should be taken seriously. Unlike some infections, they don’t go away on their own, meaning that medical intervention is vital. If the abscess is left untreated, it will only grow and spread. If the abscess is left, it will continue to grow and fill with puss.
Like any untreated infection, it has the potential to spread to other parts of your body, making it more and more difficult to treat. In extreme cases, it can even lead to life-threatening complications like sepsis (blood poisoning).
So, don’t underestimate the potential risks that come with dental abscesses. In fact, it is important to bear in mind that dental abscesses are actually the advanced stage of a tooth infection, which usually starts in the inside of the tooth.
The inside of the tooth isn’t solid or bone-like – it’s pulpy, fleshy and full of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues. This makes it more susceptible to infection.
Causes of Dental Abscesses
Poor oral hygiene
With saliva, the food that you eat and the liquid that you drink, it will come as no surprise that your mouth is a hub of bacteria. On your teeth, this bacteria forms a sticky, colourless film known as plaque. The bacteria in the plaque produces acid, which then causes issues such as gum disease (periodontal disease) and tooth decay.
If your tooth begins to decay, holes in the tooth or other gaps between the tooth and the gum will begin to appear. If more bacteria-filled plaque gets into some of these holes and gaps, these can develop into more tooth abscesses.
Furthermore, if you develop gum disease and it goes untreated, you may develop something called periodontal pockets. This is a space that develops around the teeth as a result of gum disease. Plaque, food or other bacteria can in turn get into that gap and develop into abscesses.
As you can see, all of these issues would never have happened if there wasn’t a build-up of plaque in the first place. To avoid a build-up of plaque in your mouth, you should keep up with dental hygiene by brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing.
A little bit of plaque is normal, but provided you practise good dental hygiene, complications such as dental abscesses that are a direct result of plaque build-up needn’t happen at all.
A weakened immune system
There are many reasons why someone might have a weakened immune system. It could be the result of a chronic illness, diabetes or the side effect of medical treatments such as chemotherapy.
One unfortunate result of a weakened immune system is that your body is less able to fight off diseases and infections. You have less white blood cells and less antibodies. So, if staph bacteria enters your mouth and your body is not able to fight it off, this puts you at an increased risk of dental abscesses.
Previous damage to your teeth or gums
If you’ve sustained an injury to your teeth and gums or recently had a surgical procedure, this also puts you at risk of dental abscesses because bacteria can get into any of the gaps/breakages and then develop into one.
Consuming large amounts of sugary/starchy food
The more sugary and starchy food you eat, the more plaque your mouth develops which, as we have seen, is something that can lead to dental abscesses.
Preventing Dental Abscesses
As mentioned above, it is easier to prevent dental abscesses than it is to cure them, and luckily, it is very easy to prevent them. Here are some of the ways you can keep your mouth safe and clean:
- Keep up with dental hygiene – this means brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, flossing after every meal and getting your teeth professionally cleaned by the dentist at least every six months.
- Visit the dentist as soon as you notice something unusual, like a cracked/loose tooth or signs of gum disease.
- Avoid sugary and starchy food and drink.
Ultimately, as long as you take good care of your teeth, you should be able to avoid dental abscesses. To find out more about how to take care of your teeth, explore more of our website here.