A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form in the teeth or gums as a result of a bacterial infection.
Bacteria are found in plaque (a by-product of food, saliva and bacteria in the mouth). Plaque damages teeth and gums and can eventually infect the soft tissue inside a tooth or gums, forming an abscess.
There are two types of dental abscess:
- periapical abscess (the most common type), when bacteria infect the inside of the tooth as a result of dental decay
- periodontal abscess, when bacteria infect the gums
Dental abscesses can be very painful and tender and can make a person feel unwell.
Without dental treatment, a dental abscess will get worse and may lead to the destruction of surrounding bone and other serious health problems.
A dental abscess occurs when bacteria infect and spread inside a tooth or your gums.
The bacteria responsible for this are found in plaque, which also contains food particles left over from eating combined with saliva.
Periapical abscesses are much more common than periodontal abscesses.
Causes of a periapical abscess
When a periapical abscess occurs, plaque bacteria infect your tooth as a result of dental caries (tiny holes caused by tooth decay) that form in the hard outer layer of your tooth (the enamel).
Dental caries break down the enamel and the softer layer of tissue underneath (dentine) and eventually reach the centre of your tooth (pulp). This is known as pulpitis. The dental pulp in the middle of the tooth dies and the pulp chamber becomes infected.
The bacteria continue to infect the pulp until it reaches the bone that surrounds and supports your tooth (alveolar bone), where the periapical abscess forms.
Causes of a periodontal abscess
A periodontal abscess occurs when plaque bacteria affect your gums, causing gum disease (known as periodontitis).
Periodontitis causes inflammation (redness and swelling) in your gums, which can make the tissue that surrounds the root of your tooth separate from the base of your tooth. This separation creates a tiny gap known as a periodontal pocket, which can be very difficult to keep clean and allows bacteria to enter and spread. The periodontal abscess is formed by the build-up of bacteria in the periodontal pocket.
Dental abscesses require immediate treatment, as left untreated they can cause severe pain, cause facial swellings and disrupt your day to day life.
It is important to arrange an emergency appointment to avoid the potential spread of infection. Treatment is dependent upon the severity and type of abscess, but may include root canal treatment, antibiotics, deep cleaning or extraction of the tooth.