tissues in the mouth are injured
or get irritated, bacteria may get
into the area and cause an infection
and a painful, pus-filled swelling.
If the pus can't drain, the area
will get more swollen and painful.
This is known as an abscess. An
abscess is your body's attempt to
contain an infection and prevent
it from spreading to other areas.
Abscesses can form very quickly,
often within 24 to 48 hours of when
the infection starts.
are two main types of abscesses:
gum, or periodontal, abscess
is usually caused by an infection
in the small space, or pocket, between
the teeth and gums. This may happen
when food particles get trapped
between the gum and tooth. In more
advanced cases of periodontal disease,
bacteria can build up in deep pockets
under the surface of the gums.
A tooth-related abscess,
called a periapical abscess (located
at the tip of the tooth root), occurs
within the tooth itself when the
nerve is dead or dying. This type
of abscess can spread to the bone
surrounding the tip of the root.
Most abscesses are painful, which
means that people usually get treatment
right away. In some cases, however,
the infection causes little or no
pain — or people ignore the
discomfort and wait for it to go
away. This can result in a chronic
abscess, in which the infection
lasts for months or even years.
When abscesses aren't treated promptly,
the infection can damage nearby
tissues or teeth. The buildup of
scar tissue caused by the infection
may result in the development of
a hollow tunnel of tissue called
a fistula or "sinus tract."
Pus from the abscess may drain through
this "artificial" tunnel
to an opening on the surface, and
may be seen in the mouth as a pimple
that comes and goes. People with
sinus tracts may feel a small bump
in their mouths, or may have a strange
taste in their mouths due to the
drainage of pus.
In some cases, a chronic abscess
can form a cyst in the bone. The
cyst has to be removed surgically.
There also are rare instances in
which the infection spreads to the
surrounding tissues and causes serious
You Can Do
are always serious because the infection
may spread to other parts of the
If you can see or feel a pimple-like
swelling on the gum, you may want
to try rinsing your mouth several
times a day with a mild salt-water
solution (1/2 teaspoon of salt in
8 ounces of water). This may help
draw the pus toward the surface
and allow pressure in the area to
be relieved temporarily. In all
cases of abscess, you need to see
your dentist as soon as possible.
Our Emergency Dentist Will Do
gum abscesses will heal quickly
once the area is cleaned thoroughly,
the trapped material is allowed
to escape, and the source of the
infection is treated.
If a sinus tract has formed, your
dentist will need to trace it back
to the source of the infection.
He or she will insert a probe into
the tunnel and take an X-ray to
see where the infection started.
Once the source of the infection
is identified and cleaned out, the
sinus tract usually will close on
the infection started inside a tooth,
your dentist may start root canal
treatment by making a small hole
in the tooth to allow the abscess
to drain. This type of abscess typically
occurs only when the tooth nerve
is damaged or is already dead. The
tooth will need a filling or a crown
following successful root canal
If the abscess is severe or the
tooth is badly damaged, you may
need to have the tooth removed.
abscesses in the gums usually can
be treated by cleaning out the debris
or bacteria that has become trapped
and washing out the area thoroughly.
Your dentist or oral surgeon calls
this procedure aspiration, incision
and drainage. More serious periodontal
abscesses often can be cleared up
by the same method. However, the
periodontal disease that caused
the infection will require more
intensive treatment to prevent another
Your dentist may give you a prescription
for antibiotics to help the abscess
heal and prevent the spread of the
infection to other parts of your
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