Abscessed Tooth and Jaw Pain

An abscessed tooth is among the most common causes of pain in the oral cavity. This condition causes swelling around the decaying tooth, leading to tissue destruction and pain in your jaw. See your dentist if you have an abscessed tooth with jaw pain -- infection can spread to your jaw bone, causing further complications.

Consult a dentist at the first sign of an abscessed tooth and jaw pain. (Image: Sneksy/iStock/Getty Images)

Causes

A tooth is composed of both hard and soft tissue. The three hard tissues are enamel that covers the crown, cementum that covers the roots and dentin, which lies beneath both of these. Dentin protects the soft tissue lying in the center of the tooth called the dental pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerve tissue and connective tissue. Tooth decay, cracks, repeated dental procedures and trauma cause inflammation of the pulp. Severe inflammation from one of these can cause infection or necrosis of this soft tissue. Infection of the pulp spreads outside the tooth, causing an infection of the bone and gum tissue. This condition, known as an abscessed tooth, requires immediate dental attention.

Symptoms

A severe and continuous toothache that results in a sharp, throbbing or shooting pain in the jaw indicates a possible abscessed tooth. The tooth may demonstrate sensitivity to hot, cold and chewing. Sometimes the gum beside the tooth is swollen and red from the formation of pus. A bad taste occurs if the pus starts draining through the gum. Pain under the jaw in the neck occurs when an infection spreads to the surrounding lymph nodes. Fever may accompany an abscessed tooth.

Diagnosis

One of the diagnostic tests performed to diagnose an abscessed tooth is the percussion test. This test involves tapping on the tooth with a metal object such as the handle of a dental instrument. An abscessed tooth is very sensitive to this test. Other diagnostic tests used by a dentist include testing the tooth with ice, palpating the gum and jaw, and subjecting the tooth to biting pressure. A dental X-ray also provides valuable diagnostic information regarding the condition of the surrounding jawbone.

Treatment

Warm saline rinses, pain medications and antibiotics help control the pain associated with an abscessed tooth. Root canal treatment and tooth removal are two treatment alternatives for treating the infection. Both treatments remove the diseased dental pulp and allowing the infection to heal. Root canal treatment can save most abscessed teeth.

Complications

Cellulitis, or spreading of the infection to surrounding tissues can be a serious complication of an abscessed tooth. This can result in swollen lymph nodes, fever, impaired vision and central nervous system problems. Infection spreading into the spaces of the head and neck can compromise breathing.

Prevention/Solution

Good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups can help prevent a tooth abscess. Consulting a dentist at the first sign of pain or swelling in the oral cavity can prevent the development of severe pain, infection and complications.

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