An In-Depth Understanding of Gum Abscesses

Published November 5th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

What is a gum abscess? | Causes | Symptoms | Types of Abscess | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Gum abscesses are a common problem that many people face. They can be caused by gum disease, tooth decay, or trauma to the gum tissue. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about gum abscesses from symptoms and diagnosis techniques to treatments and prevention methods.

What is a gum abscess?

Gum abscesses are a bacterial infection that result in pockets of pus, also called the periodontal pocket, in your gums. Gum abscesses can be painful, but they usually go away with treatment. They can be brought on by plaque buildup around the gum line which cuts off blood supply to teeth causing them to die and break down into bacteria creating an abscess. The gum region can swell and become painful, making it difficult to chew food or speak. If left untreated gum abscesses can spread the infection to the bone, causing it to break down as well.

It is important to note that a gum abscess is not necessarily the same as a dental abscess. Dental abscesses are infections of the teeth, gums, or bones forming the jaw and mouth while gum abscesses are strictly part of the gums. Subsequently, a tooth abscess is an abscess only in the tooth. 

What causes a gum abscess?

The main causes of gum abscesses are gum disease, also called periodontitis, tooth decay, and trauma which is usually from recent dental procedures.

A gum or periodontal abscess is a collection of pus that forms in the soft tissues surrounding your teeth, generally as a result of an infection by common bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans.

Gum disease is an infection of your gums and teeth that develops when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth, goes to work decaying tooth enamel or infecting the gum tissue. Gum abscesses are typically caused by dental infections because they're usually found in areas near gum tissue or where the gum meets the tooth. Gum diseases include gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, which can lead to gum abscesses if it becomes worse. Because gum abscesses are often caused by gum disease it is important to practice good oral hygiene and visit your dentist twice a year for professional cleaning and checkups.

Tooth decay can cause a gum abscess by damaging the gum tissue. Decay forms when bacteria in your mouth mixes with food debris on your teeth to form bacterial plaque that sticks to your teeth and contains germs. When you eat or drink something sweet or starchy, these germs release acid that can damage tooth enamel. This, in turn, causes decay which then leads to gum disease and gum abscesses.

Gum abscesses are also caused by injuries that can occur during a dental procedure such as tooth extractions or implants, usually when the patient is under general anesthesia. If you have had a recent dental procedure such as an extraction, root canal treatment, or oral surgery you may be more prone to developing gum abscesses because your gums have been cut and are more vulnerable to infection.

What are the symptoms of gum abscesses?

The most common signs and symptoms of gum abscesses include:

  • Swollen, tender gums that bleed easily when touched
  • Pain in the gum region while chewing or talking
  • Bad breath
  • Pus draining from between your teeth
  • Loose tooth
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Sensitivity to cold or hot food and drink

If you have one or all of these symptoms it does not necessarily mean you have a gum abscess but you should seek medical care with your dentist or doctor to determine the cause of it.

What are the different types of gum abscesses?

There are three different types of gum abscesses and they are classified based on their location:

  • Gingival abscess is a gum abscess that occurs in the soft tissue of your gum line
  • Periodontal gum abscess is located between two teeth, known as interdental
  • Periapical abscess will occur below or around a tooth root

The most common type of gum abscess is the periodontal gum abscess between two teeth, also known as an interdental gum abscess. This type of gum abscess starts out small but can quickly become larger and cause severe pain if left untreated because it is harder to keep clean than the other types of gum infections.

The type of gum abscess you have will determine what your symptoms are like, how they look, and whether or not dental treatment is needed. Gum abscesses can be either acute or chronic depending on their duration, so if it has been less than a week since your gum abscess started then it is considered an acute gum abscess. If gum abscesses have been around for more than a week they are classified as chronic gum infections and will be treated differently from other types of gum abscesses because this type takes much longer to heal.

What does a gum abscess look like?

A gum abscess usually appears as a round, red area of swelling on your gum tissue. The gum region may also appear puffy and swollen or it can be tender to the touch. If you have an infection that is deep within your gums then pus will form in pockets around the teeth known as a pocket of pus and gum abscesses usually form on the gum tissue that surrounds infected teeth.

Gum abscess

How does a doctor or dentist diagnose gum abscesses?

A gum abscess is diagnosed by a dentist or doctor through physical examination and probing around the gum line with dental instruments. If blood is detected in saliva there's a good chance of an underlying gum abscess being present.

To confirm a gum abscess diagnosis, your doctor or dentist may recommend an X-ray of the affected area to help determine how much gum and bone damage has occurred. In addition, a doctor or dentist will examine the gums with a periodontal probe which measures the depth of pockets surrounding teeth that gum abscesses can form in.

How do you treat a gum abscess?

Treatment for gum abscesses includes antibiotics, oral rinsing with antiseptic mouthwash or solution, and analgesics such as ibuprofen. In some cases, a dentist may drain the gum abscess through a small incision in order to remove any buildup of pus. If a gum abscess is left untreated it can spread to the jawbone, causing serious damage. In the most severe cases, gum abscesses may require surgery in order to remove diseased tissue and bone from becoming infected with bacteria.

Home treatments for gum abscesses include analgesic rinses with warm salt water or diluted hydrogen peroxide to treat gum abscess pain and reduce swelling. A doctor may recommend that you do this at home for several days in order to help your gum abscess heal faster. Rinsing the mouth with an antiseptic solution can also kill harmful bacteria, reducing gum abscess pain.

How do you prevent gum abscesses?

Prevention of gum abscesses includes proper dental hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. Plaque control through brushing teeth, flossing, and mouth rinsing can prevent a gum infection from occurring in the first place. Regular dental exams are key to detecting gum problems before they become worse.

Summary

There are three types of gum infections that can cause gum abscesses: periodontal, gingival, and periapical. Periodontal gum abscesses are gum infections that form between two teeth. Gingival abscesses occur in the tissue where your gums meet your teeth, while periapical abscesses form at the root of your teeth. All three can either be acute or chronic depending on how long it has been present. Gum abscesses usually start off small but become larger if left untreated. Symptoms of gum abscesses include swelling, tenderness between the teeth, and gum pain that can be very severe if not treated early on or left untreated altogether. There are a variety of treatment options for gum abscesses including prescription antibiotics, analgesics such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation, in addition to home remedies like rinsing with warm salt water or diluted hydrogen peroxide to help gum abscesses heal faster. The best way to prevent a gum abscess is by practicing good oral hygiene through flossing, brushing, using mouthwash, and seeing your dentist regularly. If you believe you suffer from gum abscesses, please consult your dentist or medical professional.

References and Sources: 

Mayo Clinic – Tooth Abscess

Wikipedia - Dental Abscess

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