Tooth Abscess
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My 7 year old recently developed a tooth abscess that had to be drained by the dentist. What is this?”

An abscess is a collection of pus in a tissue. Pus is a collection of infection fighting (‘white’) cells. If there is an infection in the body, then the way the immune system tackles it is to send these white cells to help fight off the bugs.

These bugs in an abscess are bacteria. These enter the body if there is a break in the skin or the gums. In the mouth, these bacteria form part of the plaque that is found on the teeth and gums. They thrive on some of the particles of food that may be left behind after a meal, or if the teeth are not cleaned adequately. If these bacteria get inside the gum, then they are in ideal conditions – warm, moist and lots of food. They can multiply very quickly.

The infection fighting cells quickly gather around the growing number of bacteria, and they too, multiply in number to try and kill the bacteria. It is then battle between the two sides.

Having a dental abscess – or any abscess – can make the person feel quite unwell, and can be very painful indeed. The pain can come on fairly quickly and can throb. The pain may spread to the face, jaw and neck.

It is important to see a dentist quickly to see whether it can be treated with antibiotics alone or whether it needs to be drained. Painkillers are often give, but if antibiotics are also given, it is important to take them as directed, and to finish the course. This is to ensure that the bacteria are all killed off and not given a chance to develop resistance to the antibiotic.

If the abscess is drained, then usually the area is numbed with some local anaesthetic and a small cut made in the abscess to allow the pus to drain away. This often quickly eases the throbbing and pain. If the abscess is deeper in the gum, or involves the root of the tooth, the tooth may need to be removed.

To ensure you do not have problems in the future, it is important to maintain good mouth hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day and seeing a dentist regularly.

For more information about Tooth Abscess click these links: