A tooth abscess is a collection of pus that forms inside a tooth or its surrounding structures.
Tooth abscesses develop in response to acquiring a bacterial infection inside the tooth, gums, or jaw bone. Such infections can occur due to tooth decay, gum disease, or a mouth injury.
Without treatment, a tooth abscess may worsen or spread to other areas of the body. However, the factors that lead to them develop in stages, and knowing these stages can help a person prevent or treat an abscess.
This article outlines what a tooth abscess is, including its symptoms and causes. We also outline the stages of tooth decay and provide tips on prevention and treatment.
What is a tooth abscess?
A tooth abscess is a collection of pus that develops inside a tooth or its surrounding structures. They occur due to a person contracting a bacterial infection in one of the following parts of the mouth:
- the tooth pulp, the innermost part of the tooth
- the gums
- the jaw bone
Stages of tooth decay
The abscess itself is one of the later stages of tooth decay. The different stages include:
- Enamel decay: Involves damage to the outermost layer of the tooth. Some people do not experience any symptoms, while others may notice increased sensitivity to heat and cold. Enamel decay can cause white spots on the teeth.
- Dentin decay: Involves decay to the layer beneath the enamel of the tooth. Some people may notice pain or sensitivity. In some cases, there may be a visible hole or cavity in the tooth.
- Pulp decay: This occurs when bacteria get deep into the innermost layer of the tooth. Bacteria inside the tooth pulp can attack the nerve of the tooth, causing intense pain. Sometimes, damage to the nerve means that a person first feels severe pain, then nothing at all.
- Abscess formation: An abscess occurs in the later stages of tooth decay, after the bacteria travels to the tooth pulp, or deeper into the gums or jawbone. A person may notice pain near the tooth, along with swelling and redness of the gums. A severe abscess may also trigger a fever.
- Tooth loss: A tooth that is severely decayed may break or fall out.
Symptoms of an abscess
Some symptoms of an abscess include:
- tooth pain that may radiate to the jaw, ear, or face
- swelling of the mouth, face, or neck
- swollen lymph nodes around the face or neck
- feeling generally sick
- a broken tooth
Without treatment, the bacteria from a tooth abscess can spread to the bloodstream. This may result in acquiring a serious and potentially life threatening infection called sepsis.
Some possible symptoms of sepsis include:
- fever or chills
- fast heartbeat
- fast breathing
- feeling dizzy or faint
- confusion or disorientation
- slurred speech
- cold, clammy, or mottled skin
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