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What kills infection in mouth?

Tooth Abscess Stages & What You Should Do at Each

Severe dental abscesses can be extremely painful, but did you know some stages of a tooth abscess are less painful than others and have different symptoms? Today, our Edmonton dentists explain the stages of an abscessed tooth, why they occur, and how we can treat them.

What is a tooth abscess?

Pockets of pus can accumulate as a result a bacterial tooth infection, leaving you at risk for a dental abscess or tooth abscess.

While a tooth abscess can cause problems, you may be surprised to learn that it is the body’s natural defence mechanism in the battle against infection. By building up a layer of pus, the abscess prevents the infection from reaching other areas. While abscesses can develop at various locations throughout the body, an abscess of the gum or tooth is one of the most common forms.

Unfortunately, along with its natural defence properties a dental abscess poses further risk for the teeth and gums and can erode the periodontium — the tooth structure made of gum (gingiva), periodontal ligament (PDL), or hard compact alveolar bone — and cause irreparable damage. In some cases, the sole solution is to extract the affected tooth.

Tooth decay is a common cause of dental abscesses, which can also happen as a result of a fractured, cracked or chipped tooth. Either way, bacteria is the main culprit as it enters via a tooth cavity or through a chip or crack in the tooth.

In response to this invasion of bacteria, the body develops a protective barrier or shield in the form of pus. As we already know, this can cause more harm than good.

Types of Tooth Abscess

The types of dental abscesses are classified based on where they form in the mouth. They include:

  • Gingival Abscess — This gum abscess forms on the surface of the gum tissue. For most people, it resembles a small but visible pimple. Detected early, a gingival dental abscess is easy to treat and recover from.
  • Periodontal Tooth Abscess — This type of abscess happens deeper within the gum — mainly in the gum pockets. Since the pus does not have anywhere to drain, a periodontal tooth abscess can easily spread to surrounding bone and tissue.
  • Periapical Abscess — Can erode a tooth’s protective enamel and softer inner dentin. Once it reaches the dentin it can easily attack the soft inner pulp where the tooth’s nerves are located. This is when severe pain occur. For this type of abscess the only solution is to have a root canal to save the tooth.
What not to tell your wife?

Tooth Abscess Stages

Now that we’re clear on what a dental abscess is and where they can occur, we should also cover the various tooth abscess stages. Keep in mind that an abscessed tooth happens gradually and that a series of dental problems and clear stages need to happen. These are as follows:

  1. Enamel Decay
    Plaque is what causes a buildup of bacteria in the mouth, which then leads to the development of pus and finally, a dental abscess. If we don’t brush as frequently or thoroughly enough to eliminate plaque from our teeth and along the gum line, plaque can build up on gums and tooth surfaces. Acid can form and erode the tooth enamel. Once tooth decay occurs, a cavity forms.
  2. Dentin Decay
    If you don’t visit your dentist soon enough to have the cavity filled, bacteria continue to eat their way through the enamel and enter the dentin (sub-layer).

How quickly does a tooth abscess progress?

Abscesses can develop relatively quickly — as little as one or two days after the first signs of infection. They may progress undetected and therefore untreated, and develop for months or even years. Since early detection is key, we recommend seeing a dentist regularly for dental exams and checkups and contacting us at the first sign of any infection or problem.

How do I know if my tooth abscess is spreading?

It’s relatively rare for a tooth infection to spread to other areas of the body. However, because consequences can be severe if this does occur this would be considered a dental emergency. Below is a list of symptoms that could point to a tooth infection spreading to another part of the body.

Anyone who suspects they have a tooth infection and notices any of these symptoms should make an appointment with our dentists right away:

  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty opening the mouth (trismus)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the neck, cheeks or face
  • Painful mouth and tongue
  • Itching or burning sensation on the skin
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Double vision or loss of vision
  • Confusion
  • Drooping eyelids

Without prompt treatment, you may be at risk for developing infections in the blood vessels in the sinuses, the bone surrounding the tooth, the skin, and infections in the blood that could cause sepsis. A parapharyngeal abscess (an infection at the back of the mouth) can also form.

Tooth Abscess Treatment at Azarko Dental Clinics

Similar to most other dental issues, the earlier you can contact your Edmonton dentist to have a tooth abscess treated, the more favourable outcomes for your smile — and your long-term health.

Treatment will depend on several factors, including:

  • The initial location of the abscess
  • Whether, and how much, the infection has spread
  • The extent of the immune system’s reaction to the infection

Your dentist may simply need to make a small incision into the abscess to drain it, then wash the area with a saline solution. If the dental abscess has reached the inner pulp chamber, root canal therapy is needed to clear bacteria from the tooth’s pulp chamber. A dental crown would then be placed to protect the remaining tooth.

Alternatively, the tooth may need to be extracted and the abscess drained to prevent the infection from spreading further. Along with the steps above, your dentist may prescribe a course of antibiotics, especially if the infection has spread to nearby teeth.

Tooth abscess


As a common symptom of a bacterial infection, abscesses are painful and can lead to further complications if left untreated. If you suspect you have a dental abscess, the most important thing you can do is book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

What is a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that develops on or around a tooth. It is formed as the result of a bacterial infection.

There are three main types of dental abscess:

  • Periapical abscess
    This is an infection at the root of the tooth itself, where bacteria has entered through a hole in the enamel.
  • Periodontal abscess
    This type of abscess forms in a periodontal pocket (the space between your gum and tooth at the base of the tooth).
  • Gingival abscess
    A gingival abscess forms on the gum itself.

What is a tooth infection?

A tooth infection occurs when bacteria enters your teeth or gums, and your body sends white blood cells to fight the infection. The mixture of bacteria, white blood cells and dead tissue constitutes pus, which fills a cavity and produces swelling and sensitivity.

This pus-filled cavity is the abscess, which contains the infection and must be drained and treated by a dental professional. Simply put, the infection is the root of the problem and the abscess is the most visible symptom of the infection.

Symptoms of a tooth abscess

If you have a dental abscess, you may be suffering from some of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent and severe toothache
  • Pain radiating to your ear, jaw or neck
  • Increased pain when lying down
  • Swelling and sensitivity around a tooth or gums
  • Persistent bad breath or a foul taste in your mouth
  • Sensitivity to pressure from chewing
  • Sensitivity to hot and/or cold temperatures
  • Tender lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • Fever and general unwellness
  • Difficulty opening your mouth, swallowing or sleeping.

Common causes

An abscess is caused by a dental infection, usually bacterial. These infections typically occur as a result of poor dental hygiene.

When tooth decay develops, a hole in the enamel of your teeth (a cavity) can allow bacteria to enter the tooth and an abscess to form. Bacteria may also enter the tooth through a dental injury or prior dental work.

Similarly, if gingivitis (gum disease) is left untreated, bacteria may accumulate in periodontal pockets or abrasions on the surface of the gums.

Other factors that can contribute to dental infection include:

  • Impacted wisdom teeth
  • High sugar diet
  • Smoking
  • Dry mouth.

Don’t try to treat a tooth abscess at home

If you’re struggling with the pain of a tooth abscess, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. A dentist will safely drain and treat the abscess, and a root canal procedure may be necessary.

While waiting to see the dentist, you may find temporary pain relief at home, with some of the following methods:

  • Ibuprofen
    Over-the-counter ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and may help to reduce pain related to swelling.
  • Clove oil
    Clove oil has both anaesthetic and antibacterial properties. It can be gently applied to the abscess with a cloth or cotton swab.
  • Salt water rinse
    Rinsing your mouth with salt water can help to wash away bacteria and offer some short-term relief.

When to see a dentist

The longer you let pain go untreated, the more damage may be done. See a dentist as soon as possible if you suspect you’ve developed a dental abscess.

Signs you should see a dentist include:

Severe or intolerable pain.

Pain that lasts longer than a day.

Dental pain accompanied by fever, ear or jaw pain.

Swelling in or around the face.

Previous cases of dental infection.

The sooner you book an appointment with Kowhai Dental, the sooner we can treat your pain. Request an appointment online or call us on 09 430 0707.

What to expect

It’s normal to be anxious about seeing the dentist, but it can help to calm your nerves by knowing what to expect.

When you come to Kowhai Dental for a dental abscess or severe dental pain, we’ll start by asking you a few questions about your pain. Consider:

  • When did the pain start?
  • How do you think the abscess occurred?
  • What is your usual dental routine?
  • Have you made any changes recently?

We’ll then perform a full examination and may require an X-ray to see what’s going on under the hood. A dental X-ray is very simple and quick, and can be done in the same appointment.

Depending on the severity and type of infection, we may suggest a number of treatments including antibiotics, root canal or extraction of the infected tooth if the infection has proceeded too far.

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