Dental abscesses and sore gums

What is a dental abscess?

A dental abscess occurs when the nerve of a tooth has become infected. This is usually due to dental decay, but may also be caused by injury to the tooth.

Pus is formed, which can only escape through the root of the tooth. This causes pressure under the tooth, which makes it painful if touched. The pain is intense and throbbing may affect the side of the face.
How can a dental abscess be avoided?

Keeping your teeth healthy is the best way to prevent dental abscess.

Try to avoid cavities by reducing your intake of sugary foods and drinks - have them as an occasional treat, at mealtimes only.

Brush your teeth twice daily using a toothpaste containing fluoride. To get the most benefit from the fluoride, do not rinse the toothpaste away after brushing.

Visit your dentist regularly, at agreed intervals. This way, problems can be diagnosed early and your treatment will be more straightforward.
What should I do if I get a dental abscess?

You should seek advice from a dentist urgently to get the abscess drained. It may be possible to drain the pus through the tooth itself so the tooth can be saved (root canal treatment). If not, the tooth will need to be extracted to prevent the abscess recurring.

Sometimes, a dental abscess may burst. This allows the pus to drain and can ease the pain. The process can be encouraged by using a hot salt-water mouthwash (a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water).

Do not apply any heat directly to the face - a hot-water bottle, for example - as this will make the swelling worse. However, something cold on the face may ease the swelling, while painkillers occasionally help reduce the pain. In severe cases, antibiotics may be necessary.

Remember that even if the abscess drains by itself, you should seek advice from your dentist for further assessment.