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Tooth abscess symptoms: What is a dental abscess, how do you fix it?

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A staggering 90 percent of adults in the UK have some gum disease on their teeth, and gum abscesses can often occur as a result. How do you know if your inflamed gums are dental abscesses? reveals the signs and symptoms of dental abscess and how to treat it.

What is a dental abscess?

Abscesses can occur on many parts of the body, including the inside of your mouth.

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form in the mouth as a result of a bacterial infection.

Dental abscesses can pop up in and around the tooth, in the bones holding the teeth together, or on the gums.

Having an abscess in any of these places can lead to serious complications.

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What causes dental abscess?

Plaque is a sticky film that builds up on your teeth and it contains millions of bacteria.

If you don’t clean your teeth well enough, the bacteria in plaque produces damaging acids.

This can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and dental abscesses

Dental abscesses are normally caused by poor oral hygiene, consuming too much sugar or starch, a dental injury, or a weakened immune system.

Flossing or using an interdental brush once a day and brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste for two minutes each time should keep abscesses away.

Never use mouthwash after brushing your teeth, as this will make the protective toothpaste redundant.

Most people experience pain alongside a dental abscess, but this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes abscesses and other dental conditions go unnoticed because they don’t cause symptoms.

However, even if you aren’t experiencing pain you need to see your dentist.

Dental abscesses don’t disappear on their own, and they can spread to other parts of the body.

This can make you feel generally unwell and you may develop a fever.

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Dental abscess symptoms

The symptoms range from mild to severe, and you may not even feel some of them.

According to the NHS, they are:

  • an intense throbbing pain in the affected tooth or gum that may come on suddenly and gets gradually worse
  • pain that spreads to your ear, jaw and neck on the same side as the affected tooth or gum
  • pain that’s worse when lying down, which may disturb your sleep
  • redness and swelling in your face
  • a tender, discoloured or loose tooth
  • shiny, red and swollen gums
  • sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink
  • bad breath or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing

How do you fix it?

If you think you have a dental abscess, it is important to see a dentist as soon as you can.

Ring your registered dentist to book an appointment, or if it is out of hours listen to their answerphone message to find out how to access out-of-hours dental treatment.

If you don’t have a dentist, you can find one by calling NHS 111.

Don’t ring your GP because they will not be able to help you.

If you are struggling to breathe or swallow or have swelling around your eyes or neck, go to A&E immediately.

The dentist will remove the source of the infection and drain away the pus.

Which treatment you will be given depends on where the abscess is and how severe the infection is.

You may need the affected tooth removed or you might need a root canal.

On the day, the dentist may simply make an incision and drain the abscess.

However, this is normally just a temporary fix and you’ll need to go back.

Home remedies

In the meantime, take painkillers to control the pain.

The NHS recommends taking ibuprofen in this situation, but paracetamol works too.

You should also use a soft toothbrush only, and avoid flossing around the affected tooth.

Try rinsing your mouth with a solution of two teaspoons of salt and half a cup of warm tap water.

This should keep the gums as clean as possible and remove the pain temporarily.

A cold compress – ice cubes wrapped in a dry towel – held on the affected side of the face should help.

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