There you are, sitting in the dentist’s chair with a toothache. All of a sudden you hear the doctor use the word abscess. Abscess? You aren’t 100% sure what that word means but for the fact that you are in pain you are sure that the meaning of that word can’t be good.

Typically caused by severe tooth decay, trauma, or gum disease, an abscessed tooth is a painful infection at the root of the tooth or in between the tooth and the gum. When a tooth becomes abscessed, pus (which is the sign of an infection) builds up within the infected tooth. In extreme cases, this infection begins to eat away at the bone. If left untreated, this problem can eventually cause larger problems like facial disfigurement or sinusitis, which are infected sinuses.

Unfortunately, like with many signs of tooth decay, abscessed teeth can be hard to diagnose. Sometimes a tooth may be abscessed yet the person experiences little to no pain. But, on the other hand, there are many common symptoms associated with this problem. These symptoms include a toothache, fever, pain when chewing, bitter taste in the mouth, foul smell to the breath, swollen neck glands, ill feeling, red swollen gums, and open sores filled with pus on the side of the gums.

When left untreated, the infection may also kill the root of the tooth, causing all pain to stop. Many people, however, believe at this point that the infection is gone. This assumption is not true. At this point, the infected tooth is basically dead, and the infection will continue to develop into sepsis, which is an infection that spreads and destroys tissue not just in your mouth but the rest of your body.

In order to diagnose an abscessed tooth, first, visit your dentist. During the appointment, your dentist will be able to accurately diagnose the problem by taking a series of x-rays, probing your tooth with an instrument to determine if you have a sensation of pain when the tooth is touched, and examining your gums to see if they are red and swollen.

Once the tooth is diagnosed as being abscessed, you and your dentist have three options. First, your dentist’s goal is to clear the source of the infection and preserve the tooth. In order to eliminate the infection, the tooth must be exsiccated of the pus buildup inside the tooth. This procedure is called a root canal. Once the root canal is complete, a crown may be placed over the tooth. Another option you have for treating an abscessed tooth is extraction, which will allow the infection to drain through the socket.

After the abscessed tooth is properly treated, you may be prescribed an antibiotic to help fight the infection. Additionally, your dentist may recommend you use warm salt-water rinses and over the counter pain medication.

In order to prevent the risk of infection, good oral hygiene must be maintained. It is recommended that you brush twice a day for two minutes as well as floss daily. In addition, be sure to visit your dentist for routine exams to take care of small issues before they become big problems.