Abscesses can form in almost any part of the body. In the mouth, abscesses form in the gums, teeth or roots of teeth. Bacteria can enter and cause an abscess in several ways:
People with a lowered resistance to infection have an increased risk of developing an abscess.
At first, an abscess may cause a toothache, which can be severe. The tooth's nerve also can become infected. If the infection burrows through to the gum, it can form a visible swelling (boil). Once the boil breaks open, the pain often gets much better. However, dental treatment is still needed.
If the abscess does not drain, the infection can spread to other areas of the head and neck. In this case, it can become life-threatening.
Your dentist also will take an X-ray to look for loss of bone around the tip of the tooth's root. The empty space where bone has been lost looks dark on an X-ray.
If there is no swelling, the infection can be drained directly from the inside of the tooth using root canal treatment.
Treatment to remove diseased tissue should be started as soon as possible. If the abscessed tooth cannot be saved, it should be removed (extracted). This removes the source of the infection and allows the jawbone and gums to heal.
If the abscess is in the gums, your dentist may suggest that you rinse with warm salt water a few times a day for several days. The usual formula is to mix one-eighth of a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water.
You may be prescribed antibiotics to help kill the infection.
You should have dental X-rays six months later. This can show whether healthy bone and tissue are filling the area of the abscess. If the bone does not fill in after the treatment, you may need to visit a specialist. An endodontist or oral surgeon can surgically remove a persistent abscess.