What is a Tooth Abscess and What Causes Them?

Is your child complaining of a toothache? Do they have a fever or bad breath? They may have a tooth abscess. 

Caused by a bacterial infection, a tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that develops in or near a tooth. Your child’s dentist can treat tooth abscesses by draining the pus from the tooth or gum and addressing the infection. If your child has a periapical abscess inside the tooth, your pediatric dentist may be able to save the tooth with a root canal treatment. In some cases, though, the dentist may recommend pulling the tooth if it cannot be saved.

Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess in a Child

A tooth abscess can cause a number of signs and symptoms, such as: 

  • Severe, constant, throbbing toothache that can extend to your child’s jawbone, ear or neck
  • Pain or discomfort when your child eats or drinks hot or cold foods or beverages
  • Pain or discomfort when your child bites down or chews
  • Fever
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes in your child’s neck or under their jaw
  • Swelling in your child’s face, cheek or neck, which may even cause trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Foul odor coming from your child’s mouth
  • Sudden rush of bad-tasting and foul-smelling salty fluid in their mouth, along with pain relief, if the abscess ruptures

When Should I Take my Child to a Pediatric Dentist for a Tooth Abscess?

If your child has any signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess, take them to a pediatric dentist right away. Left untreated, a tooth abscess can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications.

Take your child to an emergency dentist in Saginaw if you think the infection has spread to their jaw, throat, or neck, as it can spread to other areas of your child’s body. 

What Causes Tooth Abscesses in Children?

There are two types of tooth abscesses, and each has a different cause: 

  • A periodontal abscess develops in the gums at the side of a tooth root, usually as the result of an untreated cavity, injury, or prior dental work
  • A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the tooth’s root when the bacterial infection invades the dental pulp, which is the innermost part of the tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue

The bacteria that causes tooth abscesses can enter through a chip, crack or cavity in your child’s tooth. Once there, the infection can spread all the way down to the tip of the tooth’s root, where it causes swelling and inflammation. 

Is My Child at Risk for a Tooth Abscess?

Certain factors can increase your child’s chances of a tooth abscess. These risk factors for an abscess include: 

  • Poor dental habits and oral care – failing to brush twice a day and floss once daily can increase your child’s risk of dental problems, such as tooth decay and gum disease, which can lead to a tooth abscess
  • Eating sugar frequently – a diet high in sweets, sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages can contribute to dental cavities that can turn into a tooth abscess
  • Dry mouth – saliva rinses away food particles and bacteria that can cause tooth abscesses; dry mouth in children is usually temporary, and often the result of dehydration or simply forgetting to drink water

A Tooth Abscess Can Cause Complications

A tooth abscess is not likely to go away without treatment from your pediatric dentist. While pain may improve if the abscess ruptures, the infection has not gone away and your child still needs dental care before the infection returns, worsens, or spreads to your child’s jaw, neck, or other areas of their body. 

Without care from a pediatric dentist, your child may develop sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout the body. The risk for spreading infection or sepsis is especially high if your child has a weakened immune system. 

How Can I Prevent My Child from Developing a Tooth Abscess?

Helping your child avoid tooth decay is essential to preventing a tooth abscess. Encourage your child to: 

  • Drink water that contains fluoride
  • Brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use dental floss or a water flosser to clean between their teeth every day
  • Eat healthy food, limit sugary items, and cut down on snacks between meals

You can also:

  • Schedule your child for fluoride treatments 
  • Replace your child’s toothbrush every 3 to 4 months, or whenever you notice frayed bristles on your child’s toothbrush
  • Schedule your child for regular checkups and professional cleanings with our pediatric dentist
  • Purchase a fluoride mouth rinse

For more information on tooth abscesses and their causes, contact Saginaw Kids Dentistry. Our pediatric dentist in Saginaw can help determine your child’s risk for tooth abscesses and provide treatment as necessary. We also offer fluoride treatments, dental sealants and other forms of preventive dentistry to strengthen your child’s teeth, rebuild their enamel, and reduce their risk of tooth abscesses in the future.

Further reading:

Welcome to Saginaw Kids Dentistry

Welcome to Saginaw Kids Dentistry

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Why Choose A Pediatric Dentist Over A General Dentist?

Why Choose A Pediatric Dentist Over A General Dentist?

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Learn More!

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At the heart of Saginaw Kids Dentistry is our passion for meeting families, seeing them grow, and being a trustworthy presence for kids and parents alike. If you’re ready to join our patient family, book a visit online today! We are excited to meet you and your child.

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