Expert advice on recognising the symptoms of abscessed teeth

An abscessed tooth can cause noticeable facial swelling, typically around the affected tooth and jaw. Picture: Supplied

An abscessed tooth can cause noticeable facial swelling, typically around the affected tooth and jaw. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 18, 2024


Health experts have highlighted the critical issue of abscessed teeth and have warned that it is a health condition that should not be ignored.

Health-care provider Affinity Health explained that an abscessed tooth occurs when a bacterial infection reaches a tooth’s pulp, which causes a pocket of pus to form.

“If left untreated, an abscessed tooth can lead to severe pain, tooth loss, and even systemic health problems,” Affinity Health CEO Murray Hewlett said.

He said that one of the most common symptoms of an abscessed tooth is a severe, throbbing toothache.

“The pain can be sharp, continuous, and may radiate to the jawbone, ear, or neck,” he noted, adding that the intensity of the pain often makes it difficult to chew or bite down on the affected tooth.

Other symptoms may include:

– Swelling of the face and gums

Hewlett stressed that an abscessed tooth can cause noticeable facial swelling, typically around the affected tooth and jaw.

“The gums around the infected area may appear red, swollen, and painful to touch.”

He added that in some cases, the swelling can be severe and affect the entire side of the face.

Sensitivity to temperature

Individuals with abscessed teeth may experience increased sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

“Drinking a hot beverage or consuming cold foods can trigger sharp, shooting pain in the affected tooth,” Hewlett said.

– Bad breath and unpleasant taste

Hewlett warned that the presence of an abscessed tooth can lead to bad breath, also known as halitosis, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

“This occurs due to the release of pus and bacteria from the abscess, which can have a foul odour and taste.”

– Fever and fatigue

In more severe cases, an abscessed tooth can lead to systemic symptoms, including fever, fatigue and general unwellness.

These symptoms indicate that the infection has spread beyond the tooth and may require urgent medical attention.

“An abscessed tooth is not a minor dental issue to be ignored,” Hewlett insisted.

He added that early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent the infection from spreading and causing further complications.

“If you experience any of these symptoms, seek prompt dental care.”

The consequences of neglecting an abscessed tooth

Ignoring the symptoms of an abscessed tooth can lead to a range of serious complications.

Hewlett said that this includes the spread of infection.

“If left untreated, the infection can spread to other body parts, including the brain, causing life-threatening conditions such as meningitis or a cerebral (brain) abscess.”

Other complications include tooth loss, where prolonged infection can destroy tooth structure, leading to the need for extraction.

It could also cause systemic health issues, such as heart problems, sepsis, and an increased risk of diabetes complications.

“Persistent pain and discomfort can also significantly impact an individual’s quality of life,” Hewlett added.

Seeking immediate dental care

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, Hewlett insisted that it is essential to seek immediate dental care.

“A dentist can diagnose an abscessed tooth through clinical examination and imaging, such as dental X-rays,” he said.

“Treatment typically involves draining the abscess, removing the infected pulp, and administering antibiotics to clear the infection.”

Preventing abscessed teeth

Preventing an abscessed tooth begins with good oral hygiene practices.

Hewlett suggested brushing your teeth at least twice daily, using fluoride and a soft-bristle toothbrush.

He also recommended regular flossing, which helps remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and along the gumline.

Other measures to prevent abscessed teeth include regular dental check-ups and cleanings, addressing cavities promptly and practising good gum health.

“Gum disease can contribute to abscessed teeth, so maintain healthy gums through proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits,” Hewlett said.

He also recommended limiting sugary foods and beverages.

“Reducing your intake of sugary foods and drinks can help prevent dental decay.”