In some cases, it is easy to tell whether a dental problem you are experiencing is a dental emergency or not — uncontrollable bleeding is pretty unambiguous, but you might hesitate to seek emergency dental care if you have a moderate toothache. However, a dental abscess is always considered an emergency, and anyone suffering from one should seek immediate treatment at an emergency or after-hours dental clinic.
What are dental abscesses?
Dental abscesses form when a bacterial infection within a pre-existing tooth cavity goes untreated for too long. They are common in people with poor dental hygiene and/or compromised immune systems, but they can strike anybody who has a tooth cavity that goes untreated for too long.
The abscess forms when the bacteria in the tooth migrate to other parts of your mouth and face, such as the gums, throat, cheeks or tongue. In serious cases, bacteria can also infect the bones of the jaw. The abscess itself consists of a pocket of pus and debris within the infected tissue, which grows larger over time. Eventually, it will rupture, unless it is properly treated and drained by a dentist.
Why should I have a dental abscess treated ASAP?
They can be extremely painful
As you can imagine, a pocket of dead cells and infected tissue growing under the skin of your face can be exceptionally unpleasant. Dental abscesses can be very painful, often to the point where they prevent you from sleeping and affect your concentration while you work or drive. Abscesses can be particularly painful if they occur in the jawbones or if a pocket of pus presses on one of the nerves in your face or throat. Even if your abscess isn't debilitating yet, it will only get worse without prompt, professional treatment.
They can cause permanent damage
Even if your dental abscess ruptures and drains on its own, the damage it leaves behind may be permanent. For example, if a dental abscess forms near your tooth, the expansive force caused by the growth of the abscess can push your teeth out of alignment or even force teeth out of your gums. Dental abscesses in the jaw bone are notorious for causing permanent damage, and the bone loss caused by a jaw abscess often requires surgical correction to prevent further problems.
They can be life-threatening
In severe cases, an abscess can threaten your long term health or even your life. Abscesses in the throat are especially dangerous because they can obstruct your airways and make it very difficult to breathe or swallow.
However, any kind of dental abscess contains bacteria that can spread throughout your body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in your organs and other vital body parts. If you have a dental abscess and are experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever and/or diarrhoea, emergency treatment is vital, and you may be required to go to the hospital for advanced care.
If you are concerned about a dental abscess or any other dental emergency, contact an after-hours dentist in your area.