Anyone who has ever experienced a severe dental abscess will know that it can be excruciatingly painful but (in the earlier stages at least) it isn’t always this way. You may be surprised to know that there are, in fact, a series of tooth abscess stages with some stages typically being less painful than others.
In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the stages of an abscessed tooth, why they occur, and most importantly, how they can be treated.
First of All, What is An Abscessed Tooth?
A dental abscess or tooth abscess occurs when a pocket of pus accumulates after a bacterial tooth infection. A dental abscess is a natural defense mechanism in the fight against infection. By building up a barrier of pus, the abscess blocks the infection from reaching other areas. While they can form in many parts of the body an abscess of the tooth or gum is one of the more common forms.
Unfortunately, a dental abscess puts both the gums and teeth at further risk and can erode the periodontium – the tooth structure made up of gum (gingiva), periodontal ligament (PDL), or hard compact alveolar bone – causing irreparable damage. In some cases, the only solution is to extract the affected tooth.
Before we go into the tooth abscess stages, it’s worth taking a look at why an abscessed tooth occurs?
Typically a dental abscess occurs as a result of tooth decay, but it can also occur as a result of a chipped, cracked, or broken tooth. Either way, bacteria is the main culprit as it enters either through a tooth cavity or via a crack or chip in the tooth. As already stated, the body’s response to an onslaught of bacteria is to form a protective shield or barrier in the form of pus and, as we already know, this can cause more harm than good.
Types of Tooth Abscess
There are 3 varying types of oral abscess depending upon where they form in the mouth.
- A gingival abscess – This is a gum abscess that forms on the surface of the gum tissue and for most people it resembles a small but visible pimple. If caught early, a gingival dental abscess is easy to treat and recover from.
- A periodontal tooth abscess – occurs deeper in the gum – primarily the gum pockets. As there is nowhere for the pus to drain, a periodontal tooth abscess can easily spread to the surrounding tissue and bone.
- A periapical abscess –A periapical tooth abscess works at eroding the protective enamel and softer inner dentin. Once it attacks the dentin it can invade the soft inner pulp where all the nerves for the tooth are located. This can make this type of tooth abscess very painful. More often than not, the only solution is to carry out a root canal to save the tooth.
So now we know what a dental abscess is and where they occur, let’s take a closer look at the various tooth abscess stages….
As you can imagine, an abscessed tooth doesn’t simply appear overnight. There are clear stages or a series of dental problems that need to align. They are as follows…
Tooth abscess stages – stage 1 – Enamel decay
A dental abscess doesn’t occur without the formation of pus. Pus doesn’t occur without the presence of bacteria, and a build-up of bacteria doesn’t occur without the presence of plaque. When plaque is allowed to accumulate on the surface of the tooth and gums it releases an acid which starts to erode the tooth enamel. Once this happens, the tooth starts to decay as a cavity is formed.
Tooth abscess stage 2 – Dentin decay
If tooth cavities are not dealt with at this stage, bacteria continue to eat their way through the enamel and enter the sub-layer (the dentin).
Dental abscess – stage 3 – Tooth pulp infection
After the bacteria has eaten through the dentin, it’s free to enter the inner tooth pulp. When this happens, it can play havoc with the nerves of the tooth, causing them to die. Once this starts to occur, the body’s immune system begins to attack the infection. As such, pus is formed around the dying roots causing the abscess.
Tooth abscess stage 4 – tooth loss and more…
Usually, by this stage, discomfort or throbbing pain would normally dictate that a dental abscess is present and needs addressing. Therefore, it should be treated before it gets any worse. However, if for some reason the dental abscess is still ignored, the tooth abscess can erode further bone causing tooth loss. Moreover, in those with weakened immune systems, infections can spread and if continually ignored, what started out as an abscessed tooth, can actually become fatal as it spreads to other parts of the body.
How to Treat a Tooth Abscess?
Like with most dental problems, the earlier the issue is treated the more favorable the outcome. It may simply be a case of making a small incision into the abscess and draining it. Then wash the area with a saline solution.
If allowed to spread and the dental abscess gets into the inner pulp chamber then root canal therapy is performed to clear out the bacteria-laden pulp chamber, while a dental crown protects the remaining tooth.
Finally and lastly, the tooth may need to be extracted to stop the spread of any infection further, and the abscess drained.
In addition to all of the above, your dentist may prescribe a course of antibiotics especially if the infection has spread to neighboring teeth.
If you would like to know more about tooth abscess stages or feel that you have a problem tooth or tooth discomfort that needs looking at, then contact any one of our 15 No Gaps Dental Clinics for an appointment. Based in and around the Sydney Metropolitan area, our highly skilled dental teams are well equipped and well-positioned to get you out of pain fast. Don’t delay call us on (02) 8007 6727 today.