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What is a Tooth Abscess?

What is a Tooth Abscess?

Chicago tooth extractionA tooth abscess is a serious infection that targets one of the oral structures, most often the jawbone or the roots of the teeth.  Beginning as a minor infection or even a mere cavity, a tooth abscess can evolve into a major problem, complete with toothache, draining purulence (pus), and a number of other unpleasant symptoms, usually necessitating a trip to the oral surgeon.  Tooth abscesses can even lead to severe neurologic infections of the brain as well as death due to sepsis and airway blockage.

Although cavities are quite treatable when addressed in early stages, they serve as a haven for potentially harmful bacteria when they are not cleaned and filled. Those bacteria can collect along the surface of the tooth and eventually reach the soft pulp of the inner tooth, where they may do even more damage and infiltrate other oral tissues.   You may also develop an abscess when a dental injury cracks a tooth, giving bacteria easy access to the pulp.

When you have any outward swelling to the gingiva (gum) or the face, this is an indication that the infection has spread from the tooth to within the marrow of the bone, and then through the hard outer cortex of the bone and into surrounding soft tissues.

As an abscess gets larger, Chicago patients are more likely to need a tooth extraction to resolve the issue as well as a bone graft due to the aggressive bone resorption that tends to occur due to the bacterial inflammatory process.  Alternatively, the abscess may need to also be drained, and in some cases from multiple sites.  However, if you seek treatment in a timely fashion, you may be able to avoid such dramatic interventions.

With some abscesses, acute pain can be absent and the condition can be chronic.  Because there is no pain associated with these chronic abscesses, sometimes patients delay treatment or do not even seek any treatment at all.  Unfortunately, chronic infection in the mouth has distant and harmful systemic effects on other organs like the heart and kidneys.  It can increase the incidence of stroke, diabetes, myocardial infarctions, and peripheral vascular disease.

Be on the lookout for abscess symptoms such as noticeable drainage or swelling, tender gums or extreme sensitivity. Fever or chills may indicate that the infection has progressed to other areas of the body. If an abscess continues to advance, continued swelling may ultimately compromise your airway which is a medical emergency and requires immediate intervention in the emergency room.

As soon as you notice symptoms and suspect you have a dental abscess, you should visit a Chicago oral surgeon immediately to get a conclusive diagnosis.  It’s best to have some form of early treatment to avoid further complications, and prevent life-threatening circumstances.

You can also take steps in your daily routine to reduce your risk of developing a tooth abscess. Dedicated brushing and flossing not only help to prevent cavities but also the abscesses that can develop as a result of these cavities later.

A tooth abscess is a serious matter. Stop it in its tracks before it progresses into a systemic condition.


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