Before we can explain the very real dangers of an untreated tooth abscesses, it’s important for you to have a basic understanding of what an abscess is, as well as how they are diagnosed and treated.
What is a tooth abscess?
A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that develops due to a bacterial infection in the mouth. Abscesses can develop on different parts of the tooth, and because they will not go away on their own, it is incredibly important to treat them as soon as they develop. Abscesses can be caused by untreated cavities, and injuries to the teeth and mouth, so proper oral care can be the best preventative treatment to avoid a tooth abscess.
How do I know if I have an abscess?
The symptoms of a tooth abscess are sensitivity to hot or cold, severe toothache, sensitivity to pressure, fever, facial swelling, swollen lymph nodes in the jaw and neck area. If you notice a sudden rush of foul tasting fluid in your mouth followed by pain relief, it is likely that your abscess has ruptured.
How is a tooth abscess treated?
A tooth abscess is traditionally treated by a dentist who will drain the pus from your abscess and try to get rid of the infection. This sometimes requires a root canal, which can save the abscessed tooth; otherwise, the tooth must be removed.
Consequences of Not Treating Dental Abscesses
When left untreated, the dental abscess can cause damage to the surrounding teeth and bone. This can lead to the development of a fistula or “sinus tract,” which is a hollow tunnel formed through the bone and skin. It looks like a pimple and allows for pus to drain, which can leave a strange taste in your mouth.
Most of the pain from an abscess comes from the buildup of pressure at the site of the infection. Although a fistula can drain the pus of the abscess and reduce pressure and pain, it still may not be healed. The infection will remain and need dental treatment.
Cysts can also form as a result of an untreated dental abscess. It’s a fluid filled bubble in the jaw bone. A cyst will sometimes form after a severely damaged tooth is extracted. If a tooth can be saved, getting a root canal is necessary for saving the infected nerve. In the worst case scenario, surgery may be needed to remove the cyst.
Even if an abscess drains without intervention, the bacteria may continue to spread and infect other parts of your mouth and body. The bacterial infection from a tooth abscess can be incredibly dangerous if it spreads to your jaw, neck, or brain, or if you develop sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection that spreads through your body. Some rare but serious complications include Ludwig’s Angina, which can close the airway and cause suffocation; septicaemia, which is an infection of the blood; brain abscesses, which often require surgical drainage, intracranial pressure relief, and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, and other bacterial infections such as meningitis, which can require lengthy hospitalization. Individuals with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of the bacterial infection spreading from their tooth to the rest of their body, and because of the teeth’s proximity to the brain, infections can spread quickly from the tooth to the jaw to the brain.
How can I prevent abscesses?
Because of how dangerous an abscess can be, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene in order to prevent an abscess from developing. In addition to brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and using fluoride, it is important to visit your dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleanings. Dentists also suggest replacing your toothbrush every three or four months and after any illnesses, whether they were bacterial or viral in nature. A diet high in sugar can increase the risk of cavity, which in turn increases the risk for abscesses, so avoiding sugary items can serve as a preventative measure. If you are active in any contact sports, wearing a mouth guard can prevent dental injuries which can sometimes lead to abscesses.