Abscessed tooth: stages of recovery and timelines
Table of Contents
- Recovery Timeline
- Alignment May Help Prevention
An abscess is a pocket of pus formed by a bacterial infection. You can develop an abscess in several places on your body, including in or around the root of an infected tooth.
A tooth abscess can form when you have a broken, chipped, or injured tooth, or another form of tooth or gum decay. Openings in your enamel allow bacteria into the pulp, or root, where they can lodge and form pockets of infection, which swell with pus. This may cause a toothache. Serious infection can spread to other pulp and into the bone of your jaw.
A tooth abscess is different from a gum abscess. Although both are pockets of bacterial infection that cause pain and other symptoms, a tooth abscess starts in the pulp or root. It then exits from the tooth’s apex, at the bottom of the root.
The best way to treat an abscess is with a dentist’s help. Home remedies that address symptoms may help as you overcome the infection. You can also use home treatments to manage the infection if you only have mild or moderate problems.
Symptoms of an abscessed tooth.
When you have an abscessed tooth, you may experience symptoms like:
- Consistent pain in the infected tooth.
- Bitter taste in the mouth.
- Breath odor or halitosis.
- General feelings of discomfort, sickness, or uneasiness.
- A tooth that turns darker in color than the surrounding teeth, indicating a change in the root.
- Pain when chewing, especially on one side of the mouth.
- Sensitivity to hot or cold.
- Swelling in the gum on or near the infected tooth, which might look like a pimple.
- Swollen lymph nodes, or glands in the neck.
- Swollen upper or lower jaw, near the infected tooth. This is a very serious symptom and requires medical attention.
To determine if you have an abscessed tooth, visit your general dentist, a periodontist, or an endodontist. They will look closely at your mouth, gums, jaw, and teeth to see if there are areas that look infected. This process includes looking for damaged or misaligned teeth, which can indicate potential problems with your pulp or gums.
Your dentist may tap your tooth to see if it hurts. They may also ask you to close your teeth together tightly and then ask if any areas hurt. The physical examination is important, but the best way for your dentist to find an abscessed tooth is to take complete dental x-rays.
The goal of treating a tooth abscess is to cure the infection and prevent future complications. One of the potential problems with infected teeth, including abscesses, is a change in your tooth alignment. You may also be at higher risk for abscesses if you have poor tooth alignment. Crooked or gapped teeth can damage the enamel and lead to abscesses.
The recovery timeline for an abscessed tooth.
There are two approaches to managing an abscessed tooth once you have received a diagnosis from your dentist. Medical treatment is necessary to make sure the infection completely clears. You can also manage symptoms at home.
Once you’ve healed, preventative measures can help to keep your teeth healthy, reducing your risk of infection in the future.
In adult teeth, treating an abscessed tooth starts by removing the source of infection. This can occur in stages.
- You may receive a prescription for oral antibiotics, which you take for one to two weeks. Acute oral infections take between three and seven days to resolve, but you may take antibiotics for longer.
- You may get a deep cleaning to open the tooth and remove the infected contents.
- If needed, your doctor will make an incision or drainage point on the soft tissue to relieve pressure and remove pus.
- After the pus is removed, your endodontist may perform a root canal to clean out the space and seal it.
- If the pulp is too damaged, the tooth may need to be removed.
These procedures may be spaced out over a few months. After that, you will go to regular dental exams, potentially every four to six months, to manage a severe infection.
If you have a tooth removed or have a root canal, you will need to return to your dentist in a few months to get either a dental implant or a crown for the root canal. Your dentist will monitor the progress of treatment and determine if you need more antibiotics or additional gum and tooth treatments.
Home-based oral health remedies are not advised for severe infections. Adding these treatments to manage tooth pain, as you follow your dentist’s treatment plan, can help you manage pain or side effects from medication.
After you have a deep cleaning, root canal, tooth removal, or other treatment, ask your dentist if any home treatments may help, such as:
- Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Warm saltwater rinses.
- Baking soda rinses.
- A warm, moistened tea bag compress to reduce inflammation.
- Avoiding sharp or hard foods that can puncture your gums or hurt the enamel on your teeth.
You should also find ways to take care of your dental hygiene on a long-term basis, to reduce the risk of infection.
- Avoid foods and drinks that are either too hot or too cold.
- Reduce how much sugar you eat, and limit your alcohol intake.
- Do not floss the area where the abscess was until your treatment has been completed.
- Use a soft toothbrush, which lowers the risk of opening your gums to infection.
How alignment may help prevention
If you have a misaligned bite — crooked teeth, overbite or underbite, or gaps in your teeth — it can be harder to properly clean all the surfaces of your teeth. Your teeth may be more likely to collect food particles and build up plaque in areas that are harder to reach.
When your teeth do not fit together, you may also be at higher risk for cracking them and for damaging the enamel from clenching or grinding them due to misalignment. You can reduce or prevent the likelihood of getting an abscessed tooth by straightening your teeth. Consider this as a next step after receiving proper care for your misaligned teeth.
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