Stages of an Abscessed Tooth What Needs to Be Done

May 19, 2023, Premium Dental Irvine

Abscessed Tooth
Abscessed Tooth

A dental abscess can be a painful and potentially serious condition that requires immediate attention. Understanding the stages of a tooth abscess and knowing what needs to be done can help you address the problem. Keep reading to know more about the stages of a dental abscess, the necessary treatments, and prevention tips.



What is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess refers to a localized pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection. It can occur in different areas near the tooth, each with its own specific causes. A periapical tooth abscess typically develops at the tip of the tooth's root. It is often a consequence of untreated dental cavities, previous dental work, or an injury to the tooth.




Types of Tooth Abscess

There are three primary types of tooth abscess, each affecting different parts of the tooth and surrounding structures:


  • Gingival Abscess: A gingival abscess occurs in the gum tissue without affecting the tooth or its root. It is often caused by an object, such as a popcorn kernel, getting stuck between the gum and tooth. Gingival abscesses can cause localized pain, swelling, and tenderness.
  • Periodontal Tooth Abscess: Periodontal tooth abscesses involve the deeper gum pockets and affect the supporting structures of the tooth, including the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. This type of abscess commonly occurs in individuals with advanced gum disease and can cause severe pain, gum swelling, and even tooth mobility.
  • Periapical Abscess: A periapical tooth abscess occurs when bacteria infiltrate the dental pulp, which comprises blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The entry points for bacteria are typically dental cavities, as well as cracks or chips in the tooth, allowing them to spread down to the root.

The infection spreads from the tooth's pulp chamber to the surrounding tissues, leading to symptoms such as severe toothache, swelling, and a small bump on the gum near the affected tooth.



What Does a Dental Abscess Look Like?

A dental abscess often presents with visible and palpable signs. Some common signs and symptoms of dental abscess include:


  • Severe toothache that may radiate to the neck, ear, or jaw
  • Swelling of the face or cheek
  • Redness and tenderness in the affected area
  • Sensitivity to cold or hot foods and beverages
  • Difficulty or pain when chewing or biting
  • Fever and general malaise in more severe cases



What Causes Dental Abscesses?

Dental abscesses are primarily caused by bacterial infection. The bacteria can enter the tooth through a cavity, a crack or chip in the tooth, or gum disease. These are the factors that can cause the development of a dental abscess:


  • Poor oral hygiene habits
  • Untreated tooth decay
  • Lack of regular dental check-ups
  • Trauma or injury to the tooth
  • Weakened immune system
  • Inadequate nutrition



How Do You Know if Your Tooth Abscess is Spreading?

A tooth abscess can spread to nearby structures if left untreated. Some signs that indicate the spread of the infection include:


  • Swelling that extends beyond the initial site
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or jaw area
  • Fever and general malaise
  • Increased pain and discomfort



What Are The 5 Stages of a Dental Abscess?

A dental abscess typically progresses through five stages:


  • Enamel Decay: Poor oral hygiene and plaque buildup can lead to the decay of the tooth's outer enamel. When the enamel is compromised, bacteria can penetrate the tooth, leading to an infection.
  • Dentin Decay: As the bacteria continue to spread, they reach the dentin, which is the softer layer of the tooth beneath the enamel. Decay of the dentin causes further destruction of the tooth structure and increases the risk of infection.
  • Pulp Decay: If the infection reaches the pulp chamber, which contains the tooth's blood vessels and nerves, it can cause severe inflammation and excruciating toothache. The pulp decay is a critical stage where the infection becomes more intense and requires immediate attention.
  • Abscess Formation: As the infection progresses, the body's immune response tries to contain it by forming an abscess. The abscess is a pocket of pus that develops at the root of the tooth or in the surrounding gum tissue. It serves as a barrier to prevent the spread of infection but can result in significant pain, swelling, and pressure.
  • Serious Complications: Neglecting to treat a dental abscess can result in significant complications. The infection can be spread to nearby tissues, such as the jawbone and sinuses, or even enter the bloodstream, leading to a systemic infection. In more severe cases, it can give rise to the formation of an oral fistula. It is an abnormal connection between your skin of the face or mouth and the abscess.



What are the Treatments for a Dental Abscess?

Prompt treatment is crucial to address a dental abscess effectively. The appropriate treatment for tooth abscess depends on the infection and the extent of damage to the tooth and surrounding tissues.
Common treatment options include:


  • Root Canal Therapy: This procedure involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning the root canal, and sealing it to prevent reinfection. It is often performed to save the tooth and eliminate the infection.
  • Tooth Extraction: In cases where the tooth is severely damaged or cannot be saved, extraction may be necessary. This prevents the infection from spreading further and causing additional complications.
  • Antibiotics: Along with dental procedures, antibiotics may be prescribed to control the infection and prevent its spread. Antibiotics are typically used as a temporary measure until definitive dental treatment can be performed.

It is always recommended to visit your local dentist for the treatment plan.



Prevention Tips for Dental Abscess

While dental abscesses can be challenging to prevent entirely, following these tips can help you to prevent a dental abscess.


  • Maintain good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily to remove plaque and bacteria.
  • Visit your dentist regularly: Regular dental check-ups allow for early detection and treatment of dental issues before they develop into abscesses.
  • Address dental problems promptly: Treat cavities, cracked teeth, or gum disease as soon as they are detected to prevent the progression to an abscess.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Eat a balanced diet, limit sugary foods and drinks, and avoid tobacco use, as they can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Protect your teeth: Wear a mouthguard during sports activities to prevent dental injuries that can lead to abscesses.


In conclusion, understanding the stages of a tooth abscess and taking appropriate action is essential for effective treatment and prevention. If you suspect a dental abscess, don't hesitate and search for "dentist near me" in any search engine to seek professional dental care to receive appropriate treatment and guidance.


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