How Are Dental Abscesses Treated?

Do you have a pimple-like swelling on your gums? Maybe a section of your gums are swollen, red, and very painful -- or perhaps you have a serious toothache. All of these symptoms are indicative of a dental abscess, which is an infection in your gums, tooth roots, or both. If you think you may have a dental abscess, it's important to seek treatment right away, since an untreated abscess can spread to your jaw bone or other tissues, becoming even more serious.

Once your dentist confirms that you do, in fact, have an abscess, you can expect the problem to be treated with one or more of the following methods:

Lancing the abscess.

If your dentist determines that the abscess is still localized to your gums and is not affecting your actual tooth, then he or she will likely start by draining it. This process will involve piercing the abscess with a needle or a scalpel so that the contents can flow out. Often, you'll be given a local anesthetic to numb the area before the abscess is lanced.

Once the abscess has been thoroughly drained, your dentist will send you home and with aftercare instructions, which will probably involve rinsing your mouth out with salt water or an antiseptic rinse to keep the infection from returning. You may be asked to return for a checkup appointment so your dentist can ensure the treated area is healing properly.

Performing a root canal.

If the infection has entered your tooth, your dentist will need to drain the infected material from the tooth itself. This is done by way of a procedure known as a root canal. A hole is drilled from the top of the tooth downwards, and your dentist uses special instruments to suck all of the material out of the inside of the tooth roots. Special rubber tubes are inserted into the tooth roots for stability. Then, the access hole is filled just like a large cavity would be filled.

Generally, a tooth that has had a root canal performed on it will need to be covered with a crown to protect it. Your dentist will probably perform the root canal on day one, and then have you return for a second appointment to have the crown put in place.

Root canals have the reputation of being very painful, but this is not generally the case. Your dentist should use local anesthetic to make sure the area is numb before beginning to treat your tooth. You should not feel a thing. Your mouth may be a little sore after the anesthesia wears off, but you should be far more comfortable than you were before the procedure when your tooth was abscessed.

Prescribing antibiotics.

If the abscess is severe or the dentist is worried about it spreading, he or she will probably prescribe a course of an antibiotic such as penicillin or clindamycin. This will help your body fight off the bacteria so the infection does not spread and cause any more damage. An antibiotic may be prescribed for an infection that is still isolated to the gums or for one that is affecting the tooth. These medications are usually used in conjunction with either lancing or a root canal, depending on the extent of the infection.

If your dentist prescribes an antibiotic, make sure you take it for as long as instructed. Do not stop taking it early, even if your mouth feels better. Stopping your antibiotics early may just encourage the infection to come back more strongly.

If you think you have a dental abscess, do not prolong treatment because you are fearful. Dental abscesses do not clear up on their own, and the longer you wait to see the dentist, the more severe the problem will become.