Abscessed Tooth

  • Medical Author:
    Donna S. Bautista, DDS

    Dr. Donna S. Bautista, DDS, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor of arts in biochemistry and cell biology. During her time at UC San Diego, she was involved in basic research including studying processes related to DNA transcription in the field of molecular biology. Upon graduation, she went on to attend dental school at the University of California, San Francisco. In addition to her formal dental training, she provided dental care for underserved communities in the Bay Area through clinics and health fairs. She also worked toward mentoring high school students interested in the field of dentistry.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What are the signs and symptoms of an abscessed tooth?

  1. The tooth turns dark in color compared to surrounding teeth. The byproducts of the necrotic pulp that leach into the porous tooth layer cause this discoloration. In many cases, there may be no pain present.
  2. There is pain with eating or with pressing on the tooth. The abscess that has spread out the root tip causes the supporting structures (gum and bone) to be affected. Sometimes the throbbing or pulsating pain is so severe it can't be relieved with pain medications. This is usually related to the infection spreading and causing more pressure on the surrounding structures of gum and bone.
  3. There is swelling on the gum that is filled with pus. The raised swelling looks like a pimple near the affected tooth. An open pimple is called a "draining fistula" and has ruptured to release pus. This is an obvious sign of infection. Other signs of a tooth abscess are a bad taste or bad odor in the mouth.
  4. Swelling of the face, jaw, or surrounding lymph nodes often signals a growing infection. Jaw pain from the swelling can be present, as well.

It is also important to note that an abscessed tooth may not have any symptoms at all. Because the tooth has lost vitality (or the ability to feel stimuli), there may be no pain associated with it. However, the abscess is still present and could be further spreading the infection. On occasion, an abscessed tooth is detected during a routine radiographic (X-ray) exam where the patient has not experienced any telltale symptoms of an abscessed tooth.

How is an abscessed tooth diagnosed?

A primary care provider or pediatrician can assess the signs and symptoms to determine if a dental abscess is present. They can then refer the patient to a dental provider for diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis of a tooth abscess is collectively determined by (1) signs and symptoms reported by the patient, (2) exam and tests that are performed by the dentist, and (3) what is visualized with dental radiographs (X-rays).

Reviewed on 1/31/2017
References
REFERENCES:

Bertossi, Dario, et al. "Odontogenic Orofacial Infections." Journal of Craniofacial Surgery 28.1 (2017): 197-202.

Burns, Richard C. and Stephen Cohen (Eds.). Pathways of the Pulp, 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: The C.V. Mosby Company, 1980. IMAGES:

1.MedicineNet

2.Medscape

3.iStock

4.Getty Images

5.iStock

6.Getty Images

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