A dental abscess, also known as a gum boil, occurs when the nerve and blood vessel in the centre of a tooth becomes infected.
If you’ve never heard of a gum boil, the term might sound mildly amusing, but the reality of a dental abscess is a pretty nasty infection of the gums; a whole lot worse than a simple mouth ulcer.
What is a dental abscess or gum boil?
Simply put, Wadia describes a gum boil as, ‘an abscess that develops on the gums. They appear as swollen bumps that are usually filled with fluid – pus.’
It’s pretty easy to identify gum boils as they are visibly clear and, as Wadia outlines, there are a few other symptoms you could (but not always) experience:
✔️ Pain in the site of the boil
✔️ Loosening of the tooth
✔️ A bad taste
✔️ Fever or high temperature
✔️ External swelling on the face
Gum boils are not always painful, so don’t assume it’s harmless just because it doesn’t hurt.
Dental abscess or gum boil causes
A gum boil doesn’t just appear for no reason. According to Wadia, ‘A boil or abscess on your gum can be caused by a variety of usually bacterial infections but the most common are tooth infections or gum infections.
‘If the boil is due to a tooth infection it is usually caused by the tooth dying off and leading to an infection in the nerve of the tooth. The alternative cause for them is a result of gum/periodontal disease.’
Food and plaque, if not cleaned away, can cause bacterial infections and gum disease, so if this has been the cause of your gum boil, you will usually be advised to improve your dental hygiene routine.
Is a dental abscess or gum boil a serious problem?
In itself, a dental abscess is not serious, but if you think you have one, you must get seen by a dentist as quickly as possible.
‘If left untreated,’ says Wadia, ‘it can lead to serious issues including pain, swelling on the outside of your face, fever and spreading infection.’ And if that’s not enough to get you to the dentist’s surgery, consider the fact that gum boils make your breath smell terrible… ‘especially if they burst and start draining,’ Wadia tells us. Yuk.
Dental abscess or gum boil treatment
There are a few ways to deal with a dental abscess and which treatment you need will depend on the cause in the first place.
‘You may need root canal treatment if it’s been caused by a tooth infection or, alternatively, gum disease treatment debridement might be necessary if the boil is due to periodontal disease. Sometimes antibiotics are also prescribed,’ explains Wadia, but antibiotics aren’t used in every case of gum boil.
Incision and drainage might also be necessary initially, but this won’t fix the problem long term, only relieve it for the time being while the cause is tackled.
Treating a dental abscess or gum boil
It’s important to realise that a dental abscess will not just go away on its own. However, once your dentist has located the source of the infection and treated that, it will settle down very quickly, usually within a few days.
Dental abscess or gum boil prevention tips
Once the cause of your dental abscess is dealt with, you shouldn’t suffer anymore, but do ensure you visit your dentist regularly to check your teeth and Wadia also recommends that you get a detailed gum screening to ensure the gums are healthy.
If your dental abscess bursts on its own, you should still see a dental professional as soon as possible, even if the pain subsides; the cause of the gum boil has still not been treated, so it is likely that it will recur.
Good dental hygiene will, of course, go a long way to helping prevent problems with your gums, so make sure you brush every day, twice a day, and ask your dentist for advice on interdental cleaning, too.