What is a gum abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of pus that can develop on many parts of your body, including the inside of your mouth. Some people develop a tooth abscess that affects the area surrounding the tooth. But sometimes, an abscess can form on the gums.
Also called a periodontal abscess, a gum abscess is a painful condition that can lead to serious complications. It’s important to recognize the signs of a gum abscess and get medical treatment if you develop one.
Causes of a gum abscess
A gum abscess occurs when bacteria in the mouth causes an infection in the space between the teeth and the gums. Some gum abscesses result from periodontitis disease, which is caused by poor oral hygiene.
Periodontitis disease is an inflammatory condition of the gums that develops when plaque accumulates under the gums. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria. When it isn’t removed from teeth through regular brushing and flossing, an infection can occur in the surrounding tissue. This can result in the formation of an abscess.
A gum abscess can also occur due to a deep periodontal pocket. A periodontal pocket is a space that develops around the teeth from gum disease. Bacteria can live in this space. If food and plaque become embedded in this space, bacteria can thrive.
Having a weaker immune system can also contribute to a gum abscess because your immune system is unable to fight off infections. Factors that may reduce your body’s defenses include being tired, stressed, or having a chronic illness.
Symptoms of a gum abscess
Some oral conditions of the mouth and gums can go unnoticed and cause little symptoms in early stages. This is not the case with a gum abscess.
These abscesses can cause persistent, severe pain in the affected area. If you open your mouth and observe the area, you may also notice swelling and redness. Other signs of a gum abscess include:
- sensitivity to heat or cold foods and drinks
- pain while chewing
- a loose tooth
- bad taste in the mouth (from pus discharge)
- pus discharge
How to diagnose a gum abscess
If you experience gum pain, tenderness, or tastes pus in your mouth, don’t ignore these signs. Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist may be able to identify a gum abscess (or make another diagnosis) based on your symptoms.
During this appointment, your dentist may examine your gums and look for signs of an infection. These include pain, swelling, and redness. Along with visual observation of your gums, your doctor may order a dental X-ray to check for periodontal disease or an infected tooth (due to pulp infection). An X-ray can also help your doctor assess whether you have bone loss from the infection.
Symptoms of a gum abscess may improve slightly in time. But even if an abscess ruptures and drains, you should still see a dentist to treat the infection.
Treatment for a gum abscess
Keep in mind that a gum abscess will not completely heal on its own. It’s important that you see a dentist to begin treatment.
Treatment for a gum abscess involves draining the abscess and removing any debris in your periodontal pocket. Your dentist may suggest a deep cleaning procedure called scaling and root planning. This procedure removes plaque and tartar from above and beneath the gum line.
Draining the abscess is necessary to remove the infection and prevent complications. This procedure involves cutting an incision in the abscess. Your dentist may apply numbing cream to the area before beginning the procedure.
Your doctor can use your dental X-ray to determine whether your gum abscess has resulted in bone loss. Depending on the extent of bone loss, your dentist may choose to extract a tooth. They may also recommend a procedure to regenerate lost bone or gum tissue.
A gum abscess can sometimes affect the pulp, which is the center of the tooth. The pulp is made up of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. If the pulp is affected, you may need a root canal to remove the damaged section of the tooth.
In addition to these dental procedures to remove and treat infection, your dentist may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics can help with swelling if your dentist is unable to completely drain the abscess. This medication can also prevent reoccurrence and stop the infection from spreading to other areas of your body. If you experience pain, your dentist can prescribe pain medication.
There’s no way to treat a gum abscess at home. To reduce pain and sensitivity until you see a dentist, rinse your mouth with warm salt water or take over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen to reduce inflammation.
Complications of a gum abscess
Don’t ignore a gum abscess. If left untreated, the infection can spread deeper into the gum tissue and affect surrounding teeth and bones. This can cause increased pain and swelling, and the infection could travel to other parts of your face and body.
In rare cases, a gum infection can travel to the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening complication known as sepsis. Sepsis symptoms include:
- a temperature above 101˚F (38˚C)
- difficulty breathing
- abdominal pain
- high heart rate
How to prevent a gum abscess
Practice good oral hygiene to prevent a gum abscess. This includes brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis. Brush your teeth two to three times a day, particularly after meals. This reduces the amount of plaque that accumulates on your teeth and under the gum line. Also, floss at least once a day to remove food and plaque stuck in the gums.
Make sure you schedule regular dental cleanings. Get your teeth professionally cleaned every six months. Your dentist can observe the health of your teeth and gums, and diagnose oral problems early to prevent disease and infections.
Outlook for a gum abscess
With early treatment, the outlook for a gum abscess is positive. Your dentist can drain the pus and remove the infection, reducing the risk of complications. But if left untreated, a gum abscess can worsen and lead to a potentially life-threatening infection.
Consult your dentist if you develop any pain, swelling, or discharge in your gums.