Swellings around the mouth can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, swelling can occur because of blocked salivary glands, medication side-effects, poor nutrition (particularly vitamin C deficiency), gingivitis and gum disease, and some oral cancers. However, a swelling can also be an indication that a tooth has an abscess, especially if it is accompanied by pain and has occurred reasonably quickly.
A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that’s caused by a bacterial infection. The abscess can occur at different regions of the tooth for different reasons. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root, whereas a periodontal abscess occurs in the gums next to a tooth root (Tooth Abscess).
Abscesses need to be seen to straight away for treatment as they are typically extremely painful and cannot heal themselves. There is a risk that an untreated infection from an abscess will spread to the blood or other parts of the body, and may cause a potentially fatal sepsis.
How Is An Abscess Treated?
Antibiotics can be prescribed by a dentist or GP to reduce the risk of the infection spreading. The antibiotics will often cause the swelling and pain to subside within a day or two, but it’s important to note that this relief is temporary: antibiotics will not cure the abscess. This is because the source of infection remains deep inside the tooth, well-protected from the antibiotics, which can only reach infections via the bloodstream.
To effectively treat an abscess, the source of the infection (the bacteria) needs to be removed. An infected tooth must either be removed entirely (extracted) or the infection inside it must be drained away and the resulting void inside the tooth must be cleaned, sterilised and filled in to prevent further infection. The process of draining, cleaning, sterilising and filling the inside of an abscessed tooth is called Root Canal Therapy.
What To Do If You Think You Have An Abscess
Call your dentist as soon as possible and request an urgent appointment. Be sure to describe your symptoms to the reception staff, so that they understand the nature of your situation and can inform the dental staff.
While waiting to see the dentist, the discomfort can sometimes be eased by rinsing with a salt water solution and using over-the-counter pain relief medication. If pain is severe, consult with your GP or pharmacist about alternatives. Your GP may prescribe antibiotics, which will most likely provide some relief within 48 hours of the first dose.
You can also try cold compresses on the outside of the cheek to help reduce swelling.
It is important to continue brushing and flossing teeth to help get rid of any bacteria and plaque which can contribute to the problem. It is also advisable to avoid alcohol and tobacco substances. You may find it’s difficult to eat due to the discomfort. It’s important to keep well-hydrated and as well-nourished as possible, so soft or liquid foods, such as soups, may be your best choice.