Dental abscesses are caused by bacteria; they are collections of pus, which form inside the tooth (periapical abscess) or between the teeth and the gums (periodontal abscess). Abscesses tend to be very painful and if you think you have an abscess, you should see your dentist as soon as you can.
What are the symptoms of an oral abscess?
The most noticeable symptom is usually pain, which tends to be severe and throbbing. Pain comes and goes and becomes more profound when you touch the abscess or use the affected tooth. Sometimes, pain can radiate from the tooth to other parts of the body, including the ears, neck and shoulders.
Other symptoms of dental abscesses include tenderness and weakness in and around the tooth, generally feeling unwell, a high temperature, pain when you open your mouth and difficulties when you swallow. Some people may also experience bad breath and increased sensitivity.
What should I do if I have a dental abscess?
If you have a dental abscess, it should be treated urgently to save you from pain and reduce the risk of the infection spreading. If you have a dental abscess, you will need to see a dentist, rather than your GP. Dental abscesses are treated in a different way to other types of abscess.
When you see your dentist, they will cut the abscess out and drain the pus; this helps to reduce the spread of bacteria. Root canal treatment is commonly used to address abscesses and some severe cases, surgery may be required.
In the meantime, before you see your dentist, you can take over the counter painkillers but make sure you stick to the dosage instructions. Avoid eating sharp, hard or chewy foods and drinking very hot or cold drinks and apply an ice pack to the tooth (always make sure the ice pack is covered with a cloth to prevent damage to the skin or gums).