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What is a Dental Abscess?

Jun 07, 2023
A dental abscess is a pus-filled pocket that causes an intense toothache, or even a fever or an infection that spreads to other parts of your body. Take a moment to learn more about a dental abscess.

More than 40% of adults in the United States experience some type of mouth pain each year. A bacterial infection known as a dental abscess is a common cause.

Here, our own Scott McPherson, DDS, at Ballpark Heights Family Dentistry unpacks what a dental abscess is and how it affects your oral health, as well as possible implications for your overall health.

Dental abscess and dental pulp

The best way to understand the health implications of a dental abscess starts with a quick primer on the anatomy of a tooth. 

Chances are you’re pretty familiar with the enamel, the hard outside layer of a tooth. Enamel is actually the hardest material in your body, and for good reason. Enamel and the next layer, dentin, work together as a protective shield for all of the inner layers of your tooth.

Dental pulp is the third and more sensitive layer of your tooth. Unlike enamel and dentin, pulp is composed of soft tissue and contains nerves and blood vessels. 

If you’ve ever experienced tooth sensitivity to hot or cold drinks, it’s because these nerves are triggered. Similarly, a dental abscess activates the nerves in dental pulp.

Breach can lead to bacterial infection

A dental abscess is an infection that manifests as a pocket of pus. It develops when bacteria breaks through the enamel and dentin layers. Common culprits of bacteria breaching the ordinarily strong and resilient outer layers of your teeth include:

  • Trauma or injury  
  • A cracked, chipped or broken tooth
  • Severe dental decay
  • Periodontal or gum disease

 Keep in mind that a dental abscess doesn’t go away on its own. More importantly, an untreated dental abscess may lead to serious complications such as the infection spreading to your jaw, the soft tissues of your neck and face, and even to other parts of your body.

Treatment to eliminate the infection

Treating a dental abscess is all about draining the pus pocket and getting rid of the infection. Depending on the severity of the infection, your dentist may add a variety of treatment approaches such as prescribing antibiotics. 

If the abscess is linked to gum disease, Dr. McPherson thoroughly cleans the area between the affected tooth and gum tissue.

A root canal may save the tooth

If gum disease has progressed to later stages, Dr. McPherson may treat your abscess by performing a root canal to try to save your tooth. He begins the procedure by giving you an injection to keep you comfortable throughout the process. 

 Next, Dr. McPherson makes a small opening to gain access to the inner chamber of the tooth. Using a series of small dental tools, he removes the infected pulp from the chamber, including the space deep into the canals of the root. 

Then he rinses out the chamber to ensure that any residual infected pulp is removed before he fills the empty space with material called gutta-percha.

 Dr. McPherson then closes the access opening with a small filling. In the closing steps of a root canal, Dr. McPherson takes impressions of the tooth so a dental laboratory can fabricate a custom crown. 

The initial root canal appointment closes with Dr. McPherson placing a temporary crown to protect the tooth. When the permanent crown arrives from the dental lab, you return to the office so Dr. McPherson can remove the temporary crown and replace it with the permanent one.

May require emergency dentistry services

A dental abscess needs immediate care. If you have mouth pain or a toothache and think you may have an abscess, contact Dr. McPherson right away. Waiting only risks the further spread of the infection.

 Dr. McPherson and the caring staff at Ballpark Heights Family Dental know that emergencies aren’t planned, and when one arises, we’re here to help. If you aren’t sure whether your issue requires emergency dentistry services, simply call us for further guidance.

 If you’re suffering from tooth pain and think you may have an abscess, call us today at Ballpark Heights Family Dentistry in the Grand View University area of Des Moines, Iowa, or request an appointment online

We’ll help you figure out what’s going on and get you back to feeling more like yourself again.