For your general body healthiness and wellness, you have to take care of every part of your body, including your teeth and mouth. Emergency dentistry services are essential for any dental or oral health issue, causing tissue bleeding, pain, or can become severe over time when you leave it untreated like a dental abscess.

A dental abscess is undoubtedly one of the most painful, uncomfortable, and life-threatening dental health issues, making most people seek emergency dentistry services. Seeking urgent care when you experience symptoms of a dental abscess allows the dentist to identify the root cause of this infection for appropriate treatment.

Experienced dentists at Washington Dental are here for you if you are in Lomita, California, to solve your dental emergency needs like a dental abscess. This article covers valuable information to help you learn more about dental abscesses and what to do if you have this infection.

An Overview of Dental Abscess and Its Cause

A dental abscess is typically a localized collection of infected materials (pus), which occurs when bacteria invade different areas of your tooth and gum, including the root area of the tooth and the supporting bone. A dental abscess is not an uncommon dental health issue and will occur due to the following possible causes:

Untreated Tooth Decay

Tooth decay starts when your tooth enamel and structures begin to soften, damage, and erode due to the effect of acidic excretes from the bacteria in your mouth. When you leave tooth decay untreated, it will cause cavities or holes in the affected tooth and eventually cause severe dental health issues like an abscess.

Tooth Injury

A tooth injury or trauma is another possible cause of dental abscess if you leave the issue untreated. A tooth injury can make you lose your tooth or cause openings in the tooth's enamel, providing an excellent environment for bacteria to thrive. Examples of these kinds of openings or tooth injuries include:

  • Broken teeth

  • Chipped teeth

  • Cracked/fractured teeth

You must visit an emergency dentist as soon as you can if you have the above types of dental injuries to avoid any chances of bacteria penetration on the pulp section of the root, which causes a build-up of abscess or pus.

Persistent Infections after a Root Canal Therapy

Other times, the development of the abscess in your tooth can also occur in the aftermath of dental treatment procedures like a root canal when the underlying infection persists. Hence, a dentist must fill the youth tooth with a composite resin material after a root canal to protect the inner part of the tooth (pulp) and prevent bacterial infection.

People with underlying health conditions that weaken the natural body immune system like diabetes might be at more risk of dental abscess. A dental abscess is preventable if you make it a habit to regularly visit your dentist for diagnosis and check-ups to ensure no chances of bacterial infection in your teeth and gums.

Known Dental Abscess Types

A dental abscess comes in three types named and explained below:

  • Gingival – This type of abscess will only affect your gum tissues and will not affect your periodontal ligament and the affected tooth

  • Periodontal – This dental abscess begins in the supporting structures of the affected tooth and can spread to other surrounding tissues and bones if it remains untreated. Mostly the cause of a periodontal abscess is the food particles that remain trapped between your gums and the teeth, leading to bacteria invasion in the supporting tissues of the affected tooth.

  • Periapical – One of the most common dental abscess types is a periapical abscess which starts at your tooth's pulp section (Inner part of the tooth) due to complications arising from tooth decay. Tooth decay causes erosion of the tooth's hard enamel surface, exposing the inner part of your tooth to bacterial infections. A periapical abscess forms when the pulpitis progresses or continues to spread to the surrounding bone that supports the tooth

The type of dental abscess you have will determine the severity of the symptoms you are likely to experience and those particular symptoms' location on your body.

Possible Symptoms of a Dental Abscess

Typically, a dental abscess will affect one of your teeth, but it can spread to other surrounding healthy teeth if you leave the underlying infection untreated. To prevent these possible complications that can arise if a dental abscess remains untreated, you should consult an emergency dentist when you experience or feel any of the symptoms below:

  • Foul breath

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Headaches

  • A sharp and throbbing toothache, especially when you put pressure on the affected tooth

  • Puffy gums

  • Swollen and red gums that drain pus

  • Pain when biting or chewing food

  • Bitter or "bad" taste in your mouth

  • General discomfort

Sometimes this bacterial infection can kill your tooth nerves, making your tooth stop. When your tooth stops functioning like the rest of the surrounding teeth, it doesn't mean the underlying infection will also disappear automatically.

Once the affected tooth stops, the underlying bacterial infection will continue spreading to the surrounding and adjacent healthy tissues and jaw bone, necessitating an emergency dental appointment with a dentist. When that happens, you will experience any of the symptoms below:

  • Facial swelling

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Trouble swallowing or breathing

  • Diarrhea

Signs and symptoms of an abscessed tooth may vary, depending on the individual and the severity of the infection. However, you should pay attention to any of the above symptoms and identifiers of an abscessed tooth and schedule an appointment with an emergency dentist if you experience any.

Possible Complications That Can Arise From a Dental Abscess

As mentioned above, you might experience severe general body health complications when you leave a dental abscess untreated. The pus resulting from the abscess can erupt through your skin and drain through your mouth cheeks. In more severe cases, this pus may erupt in the jawbone area and possibly damage the surrounding healthy tissues and nerves as the infection continues to spread throughout your body.

Advanced bacterial infection can destroy and damage your entire jawbone, leading to the loss of the affected tooth and facial disfigurement due to the loss of your soft facial structures and bones as the infection spreads. A dental abscess can also put you at risk of systematic general body problems like:

  • Blood infection (septicemia)

  • Diabetic flare-ups

  • Vascular infection and heart disease

  • Breathing problems

  • Ludwig's angina

Ludwig's angina is a severe form of cellulitis that causes inflammation on the floor of your mouth. Under extreme conditions, this inflammation can close your air pathway, leading to breathing problems and suffocation eventually.

When the underlying bacterial infection spreads to your mid-chest area, it may cause other severe health repercussions on vital body organs like your heart. If you fail to visit a dentist to drain the pus, it may also cause a whole-body infection known as sepsis, which causes organ dysfunction, limb loss, or even death.

In some rare instances, the bacterial infection can spread to other areas of your healthy body leading to severe health issues like brain abscess, meningitis, and pneumonia. As you can see, a dental abscess is a severe dental health issue that necessitates immediate dental health check-up by a reliable dentist who understands the repercussions of the underlying bacterial infection if it remains untreated.

Treatment Options a Dentist Can Use to Eliminate a Dental Abscess

The main concern for a person with an abscessed tooth is alleviating the throbbing pain and the discomfort caused by the infection. Luckily, there are reliable steps you can take while at home to relieve or ease the uncomfortable pain, for example:

  • Using Over the Counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory and painkiller medications like naproxen or ibuprofen

  • You can use a solution of salty water to rinse your mouth, especially the affected tooth, to ease the pain temporarily.

While the above tips can help you alleviate or ease the pain arising from an abscessed tooth, they will not treat the underlying bacterial infection. Hence, you must schedule a consultation with an emergency dentist as soon as possible to treat the underlying bacterial infection, which may continue to spread to the surrounding healthy tissues and teeth.

The type of dental abscess you have will determine the appropriate treatment method your dentist will use to eliminate the underlying bacterial infection. Depending on your symptoms, your dentist may need X-ray images of your tooth and mouth area to determine the extent of the infection. Below are possible treatment options your dentist may use or combine to treat an abscessed tooth:

Draining the Pus in the Abscess

The abscess may rupture or burst on its own, allowing the accumulated pus to drain out. If the abscess does not burst on its own, your dentist will have to cut it open to allow the accumulated pus to drain away. The dentist may apply anesthesia on the affected area before cutting the abscess to avoid discomfort during suction of the pus.

After draining away the accumulated pus, the dentist will debride or wash away the dead tissues in the affected area using a saline solution because they can never heal again.

Antibiotic Therapy

Antibiotics are a reliable way to treat the underlying bacterial infection responsible for the tooth abscess to enable your body to repair the affected bone and tooth. Your dentist may prescribe any of the following antibiotic medications to fight the infection:

  • Penicillin

  • Amoxicillin

  • Metronidazole

Most symptoms you were experiencing should start disappearing after two days of using the prescribed antibiotic medication, and the dental abscess will begin to heal after about five days. If the underlying bacterial infection is limited to the abscess location, antibiotics might be unnecessary.

However, if this infection affects the neighboring tooth and bone, your dentist must prescribe antibiotic medication to stop its spread to other parts of the body. Also, if you have a weakened natural immune system, antibiotics will be vital to help your body stop the continuing spread of the infection and initiate the healing process.

Removal of Any Foreign Object

If the diagnosis X-ray pictures show the cause of the abscess to be a foreign object stuck inside the gums, your dentist will focus on removing it to treat the abscess. After removing this foreign object, the dentist will finish up the process by cleaning the affected area with a saline solution to kill the infection causing the abscess.

Root Canal Therapy

One of the options your dentist will recommend to save the affected tooth is root canal therapy. Root canal therapy typically involves removing the dead pulp materials and draining the pus in the abscess. The procedure is known as "root canal" because it involves a thorough cleaning of the affected tooth canal, which contains the dead pulp and nerves.

Root canal therapy is a comfortable and non-invasive way to treat a dental abscess. However, you might have to schedule a second appointment with your dentist or endodontist to complete the treatment. Here are steps to expect during root canal therapy for an abscessed tooth:

  1. Anaesthesia Injection

Before commencing the procedure, your dentist will inject you with numbing medication (anesthesia) on your gums neighboring the affected area of the tooth to make the treatment process comfortable and painless. You may feel a burning sensation or sharp pinch during the anesthesia injection, but this will disappear within no time.

Even though you will remain awake during the root canal therapy process, you will not feel any pain as your dentist is doing what he/she does best to treat the underlying infection, leading to the abscess.

  1. Removing the Infected or Dead Pulp

Once your tooth is completely numb, the dentist will drill a small opening on the tooth enamel to access its inner part, containing the infected dead pulp and pus. Then, he/she will carefully remove all the dead materials in the root canal using special dentistry tools and clean it to ensure no further infection.

  1. Use of Antibiotics

Once the dentist removes the underlying infection leading to the abscess, he/she will coat the area using topical antibiotic medication to ensure the bacteria is dead and prevent possible reinfection. Sometimes, the dentist may also prescribe you to take oral antibiotics to prevent any chances of reinfection.

  1. Root Canal Filling and Crown Placement

After thoroughly removing the dead pulp in your tooth canal and disinfecting it to kill the infection, the dentist will use adhesive cement and rubber-like resin material to seal the exposed canal. Root canal filling is essential after treating an abscessed tooth to avoid new infection and strengthen the now-weakened tooth.

Because the tooth is now weakened compared to the nearby healthy teeth, your dentist or endodontist will recommend the placement of a crown to protect it from possible future damages and restore its function.

A crown is an artificial tooth that the dentist can customize according to your preferences to match the alignment and color of your teeth for an improved aesthetic appearance of your smile. If you follow your dentist's advice after root canal therapy, your restored abscessed tooth could serve you for a lifetime.

Tooth Extraction

Sometimes it might be impossible to save the abscessed tooth through root canal therapy, especially if the tooth's roots are dead or weak to support it permanently. In that case, tooth extraction might be the only suitable remedy to solve this problematic dental health issue completely.

If your dentist thinks removing the problematic tooth is the best remedy for the abscess issue, you should trust him/her. A tooth extraction procedure begins with an X-ray of the affected area to enable the dentist to plan the extraction procedure.

Before the dentist begins the extraction process, you should let him/her know your medical history and if you have any of the following underlying infection or diseases:

  • Congenital heart defect

  • Cirrhosis

  • Impaired immune system

  • Damaged heart valves

  • Artificial joint

Even if you have any other infection or condition not mentioned in the above list, you should inform your dentist before the extraction procedure to avoid any possible complications. Depending on the seriousness of the dental abscess, the dentist may use a simple or surgical procedure to remove the problematic tooth.

As it sounds, simple tooth extraction is a short procedure a dentist can perform within less than an hour. During a simple extraction procedure, your dentist will inject you with local anesthesia to numb the area surrounding the abscessed tooth. Then, he/she will use a special dentistry tool known as an elevator to loosen the problematic tooth before removing it with forceps.

In more complicated dental abscess issues, your dentist may have to perform a surgical extraction of the affected tooth. During a surgical tooth extraction, your dentist may inject you with both intravenous anesthesia or local anesthesia or the latter, which will bring more calmness and relaxation during the extraction process.

Next, the dentist will make a minor cut or incision on your gums and possibly perform other necessary procedures like removing the bone surrounding the affected tooth to facilitate its removal with ease.

After extracting the problematic tooth, you will have to go home and take care of the extraction site to heal quickly. A reliable dentist will give you the following tips after a tooth extraction to facilitate fast healing of the extraction site:

  • Avoid smoking

  • After 24 hours, you may clean and rinse your mouth with saline or salty water.

  • Take prescribed painkillers like ibuprofen.

  • Relax for about 24 hours following the extraction of the abscessed tooth

  • Avoid using a straw for drinking any liquid for the first 24 hours

  • Continue brushing and flossing your teeth, but cautiously around the extraction site to avoid dislodging the blood clot

  • Eat soft foods like yogurt, mashed potatoes, pudding, or soup

  • Apply ice cubes wrapped in a cloth on your cheek nearing the extraction site to reduce swelling and possible discomfort

Depending on the procedure your dentist will find suitable to extract the abscessed tooth, stitches may be required or not. Some stitches can dissolve away on their own after a tooth extraction, but others will remain until your dentist removes them in the subsequent dental appointment.

Your dentist will let you know which kind of stitches you have before you leave his/her office following a successful extraction of the abscessed tooth. To substitute the missing tooth and restore the aesthetic look of your smile, your dentist will recommend a dental implant placement.

A dental implant is a reliable tooth replacement option, which can take place about ten weeks following the extraction of the abscessed tooth. This waiting period is crucial to allow the extraction site to heal entirely before the dental implant placement. A dental implant will act as the tooth root to hold your custom artificial tooth or crown that functions and looks like the nearby healthy teeth.

Apart from improving the aesthetic appearance of your smile, a dental implant placement following extraction of the abscessed tooth will also come with the following benefits:

  • Improved speech

  • Improved oral health

  • Easy eating

  • Improved self-esteem

There are several treatment procedures to treat an abscessed tooth, but the quality of services you will receive will depend on the experience and qualification of your dentist. Ensure you choose a qualified and affordable dentist, knowing you may need his/her emergency dental services in the future because dental emergencies can happen at any time.

Although a dental abscess is a treatable infection, you can prevent it by observing high oral and dental hygiene standards to avoid the formation of tartar or plaque. Apart from brushing your teeth daily, you should also consult a dentist at least twice a year because the toothbrush will not reach some parts of your mouth to ensure maximum dental and oral hygiene.

A dentist has the expertise and tools to ensure all your teeth surfaces are clean and your mouth is healthy to minimize any chances of plaque formation or bacterial infection.

Find an Emergency Dentist Near Me

Skilled dentists at Washington Dental will take care of you if you have an emergency issue like a dental abscess, which worsens with time if it remains untreated. Depending on the severity of the underlying infection, we might be able to treat the abscess with a single dental appointment. Call us now at 310-326-5183, wherever you are in Lomita, California, to schedule your initial consultation with our reliable and credible dentists.