An abscessed tooth is a painful infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth. It’s most commonly caused by severe tooth decay. Other causes of tooth abscess are trauma to the tooth, such as when it is broken or chipped, and gingivitis or gum disease.
These problems can cause openings in the tooth enamel, which allows bacteria to infect the center of the tooth (called the pulp). The infection may also spread from the root of the tooth to the bones supporting the tooth.
What Are the Symptoms of an Abscessed Tooth?
A toothache that is severe and continuous and results in gnawing or throbbing pain or sharp or shooting pain are common symptoms of an abscessed tooth. Other symptoms may include:
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitivity of the teeth to hot or cold
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Foul smell to the breath
- Swollen neck glands
- General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling
- Redness and swelling of the gums
- Swollen area of the upper or lower jaw
- An open, draining sore on the side of the gum
If the pulp in the root of the tooth dies as a result of infection, the toothache may stop. However, this doesn’t mean the infection has healed; the infection remains active and continues to spread and destroy tissue. Therefore, if you experience any of the above listed symptoms, it is important to see a dentist even if the pain subsides.
How Is an Abscessed Tooth Diagnosed?
Your dentist will probe your teeth with a dental instrument. If you have an abscessed tooth, you will feel pain when the tooth is tapped by your dentist’s probe. Your dentist will also ask you if your pain increases when you bite down or when you close your mouth tightly. In addition, your dentist may suspect an abscessed tooth because your gums may be swollen and red.
Your dentist may also take X-rays to look for erosion of the bone around the abscess.
How Is an Abscessed Tooth Treated?
Strategies to eliminate the infection, preserve the tooth, and prevent complications are the goals of treatment for an abscessed tooth.