What to do When You Have an Abscessed Tooth

An abscessed tooth occurs when an infection forms within the soft center of a tooth. If you develop a dental abscess, you will likely be in a large amount of pain. Due to the discomfort from the condition, most people are immediately aware that something is wrong within their mouth once an abscess develops.

A dental abscess does not normally resolve on its own. As a result, it is usually best to seek professional dental treatment as soon as you are aware that an abscess is present. Here is some information about dental abscesses to help you recognize the symptoms and know what to do until you reach the dentist’s office.

Symptoms of an Abscessed Tooth

The primary symptom of an abscessed tooth is pain. The affected tooth and the surrounding gums may be plagued with a constant stabbing or throbbing sensation. This is often due to the pressure that the abscess may place on the dental nerves. As the nerves become increasingly inflamed, the pain of the abscessed tooth intensifies.

Additional symptoms of an abscessed tooth include the following:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Fever
  • Sinus pressure
  • Foul-smelling liquid leaking from the area around a tooth
  • Discoloration of a tooth
  • A pimple-like swelling on the gums near a tooth

All symptoms should dissipate once the abscessed tooth is properly treated.

What to Do Once You Believe You Have an Abscessed Tooth

Once you believe that you may have an abscessed tooth, it’s time to call the dentist. A dental abscess is usually considered a dental emergency, so you will likely be seen within 24 hours of notifying a dental provider. In the meanwhile, there are still some steps that you can take until you reach the dentist’s office. Here are a few of them.

Rinse with Salt Water

By adding about a half teaspoon of salt to a glass of water, you can create a gentle mouth rinse. The salt should dissolve easily within warm water upon stirring. Once the solution is made, swish it around your mouth for about a minute. Then, spit out the solution. Rinsing with salt water can the repeated multiple times throughout a 24-hour period to help lessen the pain.

Take an Over-the-counter Pain Reliever

An over-the-counter pain reliever can help take the edge off of the discomfort of an abscessed tooth. Pain medications, such as ibuprofen, are also anti-inflammatory. Thus, they may even help with a bit of the swelling. Still, it is important to follow the dosage instructions precisely when taking the medicine, even if the pain of the abscessed tooth does not fully resolve.

Once You Reach the Dentist

During your dental appointment, your dentist will confirm the presence of a dental abscess. Dental infections usually appear on x-ray images. As a result, your dentist will know the exact location and size of your abscess.

Before an abscessed tooth can heal properly, it must be cleaned and treated. All signs of infection, including the accompanying pus, should be removed. There are several steps that the dentist may take to treat an abscessed tooth. Here are a few of them:

  • Root canal therapy. An abscess can cause irreparable damage to the dental nerves that lie within the pulp of a tooth. The pulp is the soft material in a tooth’s center. During root canal therapy,  a hole is drilled into the tooth, and the pulp is completely removed. The tooth is then disinfected, filled, and covered by a dental crown.
  • Extraction. In some cases, a tooth is too severely damaged to salvage through a root canal. As a result, the abscessed tooth must be removed. If the infection has spread from the tooth to the jawbone, the dentist may drill a small hole into the bone through the gums. The hole provides an opening through which the accumulated pus can exit. This is important to prevent the spread of the infection.
  • Antibiotics. In order to treat the infection systemically, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics.

If you believe that you have an abscessed tooth, contact our office to schedule an appointment. It is important for you to get treatment as soon as possible.