Abscessed Tooth

What causes an abscessed tooth?

There are many causes for a tooth abscess. A very common cause is when a dental cavity (decay) becomes so large and deep that it reaches the pulp chamber. An inflammatory process takes place within the tooth. Inflammation of the pulp (pulpitis) is usually what is felt as a toothache. Pulpitis is further characterized by tests done by a dentist as reversible or irreversible. Reversible pulpitis means that the pulp is irritated but has an opportunity to recover. Irreversible pulpitis means that it will not recover, and the pulp is dying. Once the pulp is dead (or "necrotic"), an abscess can form as the infection spreads from the tooth to the gum ligament and jawbone below. Often, a tooth that becomes necrotic can still be saved if steps are taken to resolve the infection at an early stage.

Other causes for a tooth to become necrotic and abscess are (1) a blow to a tooth, (2) dental treatment such as a crown or a filling that gets too close to the pulp chamber, or (3) trauma to a tooth from grinding or clenching. In every form of a tooth abscess, the pulp chamber is adversely affected and is unable to recover from the insult or injury. A blow to the tooth can immediately sever the tooth's blood supply. When the blood supply is lost, the nutrient supply is also lost. As a result, the pulp quickly dies. Trauma from grinding or clenching (called "occlusal trauma") is a slower, progressive injury to a tooth.

Any tooth can develop an abscess, but third molars (wisdom teeth) are particularly prone to having a dental abscess because they are difficult to keep clean and can develop decay that can go unnoticed. Wisdom teeth are often removed to avoid this type of complication. Continue Reading

2/6
Reviewed on 1/12/2016

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!