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Dental Abscess Overview

A dental abscess is an infection of the mouth, face, jaw, or throat that begins as a tooth infection or cavity. These infections are common in people with poor dental health and result from lack of proper and timely dental care.

  • Bacteria from a cavity can extend into the gums, the cheek, the throat, beneath the tongue, or even into the jaw or facial bones. A dental abscess can become very painful when tissues become inflamed.
  • Pus collects at the site of the infection and will become progressively more painful until it either ruptures and drains on its own or is drained surgically.
  • Sometimes the infection can progress to the point where swelling threatens to block the airway, causing difficulty breathing. Dental abscesses can also make you generally ill, with nausea, vomiting, fevers, chills, and sweats.

 

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Causes of a Dental Abscess

The cause of these dental abscesses is direct growth of the bacteria from an existing cavity into the soft tissues and bones of the face and neck.

An infected tooth that has not received appropriate dental care can cause a dental abscess to form. Poor oral hygiene, (such as not brushing and flossing properly or often enough) can cause cavities to form in your teeth. The infection then may spread to the gums and adjacent areas and become a painful dental abscess.

Symptoms of a Dental Abscess

Symptoms of a dental abscess typically include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness of the mouth and face

Symptoms of advanced infection may include:

Other signs of an abscess might include, but are not limited to:

  • Cavities
  • Gum inflammation
  • Oral swelling
  • Tenderness with touch
  • Pus drainage
  • Difficulty fully opening your mouth or swallowing

When to Seek Medical Care for a Dental Abscess

If you think you have an abscess, call your dentist. If you cannot reach a dentist, go to a hospital's emergency department for evaluation, especially if you feel sick.

  • If an infection becomes so painful that it cannot be managed by nonprescription medicines, see your doctor or dentist for drainage.
  • If you develop fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea as a result of a dental abscess, see your doctor.
  • If you have intolerable pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing.

Exams and Tests for a Dental Abscess

A doctor or dentist can determine by a physical exam if you have a drainable abscess. X-rays of the teeth may be necessary to show small abscesses that are at the deepest part of the tooth.

Treating a Dental Abscess at Home

  • People who have cavities or toothaches can take NSAIDs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), as needed for relief of pain and inflammation.
  • If an abscess ruptures by itself, warm water rinses will help cleanse the mouth and encourage drainage.

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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