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Dental Abscess

Dental Abscess Overview

A dental abscess is an infection of the mouth, face, jaw, or throat that begins as a tooth infection. The original cause may be from a deep cavity, periodontal (gum) disease, or from trauma. Such infections are more likely to be caused by poor dental health and can result from lack of proper and timely dental care. People with underlying medical conditions such as autoimmune disorders (Sjögren's syndrome and similar conditions) or conditions that weaken the immune system (diabetes, postradiation/chemotherapy cancer care, or people taking immunosuppressive therapy) may be more susceptible to developing a dental abscess.

  • In an abscess, bacteria from the tooth can extend into the gums, the cheek, the throat, beneath the tongue, or even into the jaw or facial bones. A dental abscess can become very painful when tissues become inflamed or due to the pressure within the abscess. A gum or gingival abscess is the result of infection or trauma to the surface of the gum tissue. Periodontal abscesses are the result of an infection that has moved deeper into gum areas (on the outside surfaces of a tooth), and a periapical abscess refers to a tooth with an infection of the dental pulp (starting inside a tooth).
  • Pus often collects at the site of the infection as the immune system tries to fight the infection from spreading. Pain may not always be present. The condition will often become progressively more painful until the abscess either ruptures and drains on its own or is drained surgically.
  • In extreme cases, a dental abscess can result in death if it spreads to the brain, causes septicemia (infection of the bloodstream), or if swelling obstructs the airway and compromises breathing. Dental abscesses can also make one generally ill, with nausea, vomiting, fevers, chills, and sweats.

Dental Abscess Causes

The cause of these infections is a direct growth of bacteria from within the pulp spaces of a tooth (endodontic) or on the deep root surfaces of a tooth (periodontal) into the supporting soft tissues and bones of the face and neck.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/13/2015
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