What Is an Abscessed Tooth? Do I Have One?

If you’re dealing with tooth or jaw pain, you might be wondering whether you have an abscessed tooth. Or perhaps you’ve heard the term elsewhere but aren’t sure exactly what it means.

At Largo Endodontics, we want all our patients to understand their dental health, including terms like this one. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about abscessed teeth: what they are, what the signs of an abscessed tooth look like, and what to do if you think you have one.

What Is an Abscessed Tooth?

An abscessed tooth is one where the pulp inside the tooth root dies and becomes infected without treatment. The infection at the tooth’s root can be quite painful, or it may not cause pain at all.

The term is sometimes misused to refer to tooth pain generically. But a true periapical abscess (that’s one at the base or tip of the tooth root) is something more specific, requiring the presence of a bacterial infection and the pocket or abscess of pus that comes with the infection.

A tooth abscess can form when bacteria reaches the pulp of the tooth, almost always from a dental cavity or other damage to the tooth surface (such as cracked teeth from an accident or prior dental work). If the bacterial infection spreads through the tooth and all the way to the root, it may cause an abscess.


Are Abscessed Teeth Dangerous?

They can be. Bacterial infections often spread if untreated. An infection that spreads through your jaw or to other parts of your head can become serious, even life-threatening.

But even if an abscess does not rupture or spread, it will not heal on its own. Once an abscess forms, you will need dental or endodontic treatment if you want to fix the root cause. Roughly 80% of root canals performed today are due to tooth abscesses, though this isn’t the only possible solution.


What Are the Signs of an Abscessed Tooth?

There are many signs that could point to an abscessed tooth. Cold sensitivity can mean any number of things, including the beginnings of a dental abscess forming. These are some of the other signs that could point to a dental abscess:

  • Severe toothache that doesn’t go away and that could radiate to other parts of the head
  • Sensitivity to temperature extremes
  • Sensitivity to chewing or biting pressure
  • Fever
  • Swelling in the face, cheek, or surrounding lymph nodes
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing (in severe cases)

Sometimes, an abscess can rupture, which can provide temporary relief from pain. If you notice a sudden, unexplained presence of unpleasant fluid in your mouth (it will smell and taste terrible but also salty), you’ve probably experienced a ruptured abscess.

Some of these symptoms on their own could be nearly anything, but if you’re experiencing several or any of the more serious ones, you should contact your dentist right away.


What Should I Do if I Think I Have an Abscessed Tooth?

If you have any of the signs of an abscessed tooth, you should see your dentist or endodontist right away. Your dentist may refer you to an endodontist like us for a consultation or for a root canal procedure.

Please note that if you have a fever combined with facial swelling and cannot make contact with your dental provider, you should go to an emergency room. The urgency increases if you’re having difficulty breathing or swallowing. While the problem could be an abscessed tooth, emergency care can rule out other more life-threatening possibilities.


How Are Dental Abscesses Typically Treated?

Often the treatment for an abscessed tooth takes the form of a root canal, which saves much of your tooth while removing the infected pulp and roots. Sometimes the tooth cannot be saved and a dentist or endodontist must extract the tooth. Also, if the nerves and tooth pulp are not yet fully dead, sometimes the tooth can be saved by other means, avoiding a root canal procedure.

The only way to be certain what steps to take for an abscessed tooth is to visit a qualified endodontist, who can help you form a treatment plan.


Largo Endodontics: Your Source for Endodontic Treatment in Largo and Greater St. Petersburg

If you have or suspect you have endodontic needs in the Largo and greater St Petersburg, Florida, area, Largo Endodontics is here to serve you. We offer root canal services, often the treatment of choice for abscessed teeth, in addition to numerous other endodontic services.

Our professional team is ready to serve you. Call 727-399-2969 or reach out today to schedule a consult.