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Abscessed Tooth - Topic Overview

What is an abscessed tooth?

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An abscessed tooth is an infection in or around the tooth. It can be very painful. If the infection isn't treated, it can spread and you can lose your tooth or have other health problems.

What causes an abscessed tooth?

Damage to the tooth, an untreated cavity (tooth decay), or gum disease can cause an abscessed tooth.

If a cavity isn't treated, the inside of the tooth (called the pulp camera.gif) can become infected. Bacteria can spread from the tooth to the tissue around it, creating an abscess.

Gum disease causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets. If food builds up in one of these pockets, bacteria can grow, and an abscess can form. Over time an abscess can cause the bone around the tooth to dissolve.

What are the symptoms?

You may have:

  • Throbbing pain, especially when you chew.
  • Red, swollen gums.
  • A bad, salty taste in your mouth.
  • Swelling in your jaw or face.
  • A fever.
  • A red, swollen bump in your mouth. It may have blood or pus oozing from it.
  • A tooth that is very tender or sore to the touch.

Over time as the infection spreads, the bone in your jaw may start to dissolve. When this happens, you may feel less pain, but the infection will still be there. If you lose too much bone, your tooth will become loose and may have to be removed.

If you have a severe toothache, swelling of the gums or face, or drainage of pus, call your dentist right away. You may have an abscessed tooth. If it isn't treated, the infection could spread and become dangerous.

How is an abscessed tooth diagnosed?

Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and look for swelling and other signs of infection in your mouth. He or she may tap on the tooth and apply heat or cold to the tooth.

Your dentist may also take dental X-rays.

How is it treated?

An abscessed tooth needs treatment right away. Your dentist may:

  • Give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection.
  • Make a hole in the tooth to drain the infection and relieve the pain.
  • Do a root canal to remove the infected pulp in the tooth.
  • Remove the tooth. This may be needed if you don't want a root canal, or if you have one and it doesn't work.

You and your doctor can decide what's best for you.

To reduce pain and swelling, you can put an ice pack wrapped in a towel against your cheek. You can also try over-the-counter pain medicine, including acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. If you smoke or use any kind of tobacco, try not to do so while your tooth is healing.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 24, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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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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