Abscesses in the teeth are infections deep in the gums and surrounding tissue. Left untreated, infection can spread to other areas of the body. In extreme cases, this may be life-threatening. A child's untreated cavity or broken tooth may cause an abscess, which can be excruciatingly painful. With prompt dental care, the pain of an abscess will quickly decrease.
Cavities cause most dental abscesses. When a cavity is not treated by a dentist, it can grow larger, breaking the tooth or spreading to the gums and bone structure. Broken teeth from physical trauma may also cause abscesses. The crack in the tooth allows bacteria to enter the system, causing a painful cyst. Both baby teeth and permanent teeth can develop abscesses, so any dental pain in your child requires the care of a dentist.
The most common symptom of a dental abscess is pain. Your child may experience throbbing at the site of the decaying tooth, and this pain is frequently severe. Dental pain may also radiate to the ears and neck, causing earaches, muscle tension and sore jaws. Mild tooth pain that becomes severe over several days frequently indicates an abscess. Children with dental abscesses may also suffer from fevers. If your child has mouth pain and a fever, call your dentist immediately -- the infection could be severe.
In most cases, your dentist will prescribe oral antibiotics to treat the infection, but the abscess will come back if the decayed tooth is not treated. If the source of the problem is a baby tooth, your dentist will probably extract the tooth. For abscessed permanent teeth, your dentist may need to perform a root canal or build a crown. Your dentist may also prescribe prescription pain medication if your child is in severe pain.
To treat the pain at home, ask your pediatrician about giving your child an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Cold compresses will reduce swelling, and washing the mouth with warm salt water can ease gum pain. Apply baby teething gels directly to the gums to numb the site of the pain.
Many children suffering from a dental abscess are terrified of the dentist. Talk to your child before the dental appointment. Explain that the pain is caused by germs that must be removed for the pain to go away. Ensure that your child knows the dentist will numb the mouth to eliminate pain during the procedure. Some dentists use nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, for children with dental phobias. Ask your dentist if this anxiety-alleviating drug is an option for your child.
To prevent future abscesses, brush your child's teeth thoroughly at least twice a day. Children must also floss their teeth, so help your child do so. Children that are resistant to daily oral care may respond to gold star charts and other rewards for good oral hygiene. Sugary drinks such as soda and sweetened juice are common culprits in dental health problems, so avoid giving your child these liquids.
- "The Portable Pediatrician"; William Sears, et al.;2011
- "American College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide"; David R. Goldman; 2003
- NYU Langone Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics: Tooth Abscess