How to drain a gum abscess

gum abscess

What is a gum abscess?

A gum abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms in the gum following an acute infection. It occurs when a tooth or gum becomes infected by virulent bacteria. The body will enclose this infection in a small bag to prevent it from spreading.

Untreated, pus composed of bacteria, toxins, and dead cells will accumulate, leading to gum swelling. The swelling may extend to the point of distorting the face.

The first thing to do is to drain the abscess. Your dentist will drain the gum abscess by different means, depending on its type, location, and stage.
Find out in this article everything you need to know about gum abscess drainage.

How does a gum abscess form?

A gum abscess is a bacterial infection resulting from an acute response of our body.

When bacteria enter our deep dental tissues through a cavity, fracture, or gum disease, our immune system goes on alert. It will trigger an inflammation to eliminate the infiltrated bacteria.

But the bacteria involved in dental infections are virulent and will eventually overwhelm our immune system.

The products of inflammatory reactions, including dead cells, bacteria, and toxins, will collect to form pus. At the same time, bone destruction will occur in the infected area.

Gradually, the pus will increase and fill the space created by the bone destruction until it reaches the gum, where the abscess will appear.
Different types of gum abscesses can occur. The two most common forms are:

  • Periodontal abscess: It is related to periodontal disease. Bacteria invade the space between the tooth and the gum and destroy the tissue that connects them. This will create what are called periodontal pockets.
    These spaces are a gateway for pathogenic bacteria, which will reach the jawbone and cause inflammation.
  • Periapical abscess: The primary cause is the infection of the pulp, which contains the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth. Often, it is associated with severe pain when chewing. The most common cause of pulp infection is a broken or decayed tooth, allowing bacteria to reach the deep dental tissues.

Generally, when a gum abscess appears, the most frequent causes are:

  • Wisdom tooth infection: Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to come in, so they often don't have enough room to fit.
    Often, the wisdom tooth pierces the gum and creates a small gap where food accumulates, attracting bacteria.
    The gum covering the tooth will become inflamed. Then, pus will accumulate, resulting in "suppurative pericoronitis."
  • Untreated tooth decay: Cavities give bacteria access to the deep tissues of the tooth. It can lead to a deep bacterial infection that can reach the jawbone.
  • Trauma: Trauma resulting in a fractured tooth exposes the pulp, making it more vulnerable. Bacteria will reach the pulp through the fracture and infect it. They can spread to the area around the root tip, resulting in a periapical abscess.
  • Periodontal disease: It is one of the most common diseases in the world and the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
    Infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth, including the bone, ligaments, and cementum, will lead to the loosening of the teeth and the formation of periodontal pockets.
    The inflammatory reactions triggered can lead to the accumulation of pus and the formation of periodontal abscesses.
  • An object stuck in the gum: Sometimes food debris, such as a piece of popcorn, can irritate the gum and lead to inflammation.

The symptoms of gum disease appear suddenly and can vary depending on the location and type of gum disease. Some of the warning signs of gum abscess include:
  • Intense, throbbing pain.
  • Swelling of the gum.
  • Discharge of pus around the tooth or in the gum.
  • Unpleasant taste.
  • Bad breath.
  • Compromised general condition with fever, fatigue, and swelling of lymph nodes.

Why is it necessary to drain the gum abscess?

Once a gum abscess has formed, it cannot heal or stop on its own. It must be drained as soon as possible to avoid severe complications.

It can cause tooth loss if bone destruction has reached an advanced stage. You may have difficulty chewing and swallowing, affecting your overall well-being.

The gum abscess can, in extreme cases, spread and lead to Ludwig's Angina. It affects certain parts of the face and lower jaw and can cause upper airway obstruction.

Sinus infection or sinusitis can also occur because the roots of the upper molars are close to them. When pus accumulates, it can spread to the sinus.

Not treating an abscessed gum is also a risk of allowing bacteria to spread through the body via the bloodstream.
In some cases, the heart can be affected and cause bacterial endocarditis. The infection can also affect the brain and lead to brain abscess.

Can you drain the gum abscess at home?

Gum abscesses form inside the tissues and cannot drain on their own unless the tooth falls out spontaneously.

Be careful not to try to drain the abscess yourself, or open it with a needle or blade, which may worsen the situation, as it could contaminate the infected area even more and spread the infection to the surrounding tissue.

Indeed you can try home remedies to relieve the pain until you see your dentist, but you should not try to drain the abscess yourself.

If you have symptoms of a gum abscess, make an appointment with your dentist or call the local emergency room as soon as possible.

Another thing not to do is to take anti-inflammatory drugs that may temporarily hide the symptoms but may spread the infection.

Last but not least, a gum abscess can sometimes be asymptomatic, meaning that you can have one that grows slowly and silently without feeling any pain. Therefore, even if there are no symptoms, you should see your dentist regularly for a check-up. X-ray examinations can easily reveal these diseases.

How should the gum abscess be drained?

Gum abscess drainage is your dentist's job. The first step is to make an appointment as soon as possible so that your dentist can examine the infected area and take the necessary measures.
Your dentist will perform drainage by different means.

Drainage of the abscess by root canal treatment

Before starting the treatment, your dentist will deem if the tooth is restorable. If so, he or she will make a large cavity in the tooth to drain the abscess through it. The root canals will then be shaped, disinfected, and filled with dental material.
Finally, the tooth will be restored with a filling or a crown. If the tooth is not restorable due to extensive damage, extraction may be necessary.

Surgical drainage of the abscess

If the abscess does not originate from the pulp or if it has not drained properly with root canal therapy, surgical drainage may be necessary.
Your dentist will make an opening in the abscess to remove the infected tissue and drain the accumulated pus.
He will then rinse the area to remove any lingering bacteria or debris. After the removal of all infected material and pus, he will close the gum with a few sutures.
He will then prescribe antibiotics and pain relievers for optimal healing.

Drainage of the abscess by tooth extraction

Sometimes the tooth is damaged and cannot be saved. Extraction will be done followed by abscess drainage.

Antibiotics after gum abscess drainage

Amoxicillin is the antibiotic of choice for treating gum abscesses. The treatment usually lasts one week.
It is prescribed because it eliminates the bacteria causing the tooth infection, is non-toxic and is inexpensive.

If you are allergic to penicillin, a macrolide will be prescribed and may be combined with metronidazole.

Risks related to gum abscess drainage

Drainage of a gum abscess is an easy and painless procedure that is safe for healthy people.

But some people with systemic diseases that weaken the immune system, such as unbalanced diabetes, blood disorders, and HIV infection, may have an infectious risk. Bacteria can reach the bloodstream and affect other organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, or brain, with fatal consequences.

In extreme cases, the bacteria can lead to sepsis, a serious infection of the entire body, which can result in septic shock and the risk of death.

If you have any systemic diseases, be sure to talk to your dentist. He or she will ask your treating physician about the necessary measures to take to avoid the worst complications.

Home remedies to relieve a gum abscess

While waiting to see your dentist, you can take paracetamol to reduce the pain. However, be careful not to take any anti-inflammatory drugs or try to open the abscess yourself, as this may make the infection worse.

You can also use cloves. You can use it differently to benefit from its antibacterial and soothing properties.

After washing it, you can place it directly in the infected area.

You can also use it as a mouthwash. Place 3 to 8 cloves in a cup, pour boiling water over it and let it steep for about ten minutes.

Clove essential oil is powerful too. However, you must use it with caution and in low doses. Apply one drop with your fingertip or a cotton swab to the painful area.

Other effective oils that can provide relief while waiting to see your dentist are coconut oil and peppermint essential oil.

You can also rinse your mouth with warm, salty water to relieve congestion and clean the abscess, thus reducing pressure.
Baking soda is also very effective in relieving pain. You can use it as a mouthwash, with one teaspoon per glass of water. You can also mix it with salty water.

After your dentist has drained the abscess, you may feel some discomfort or pain at the treated site. Tips you can follow to reduce postoperative discomfort include:
  • Rinse your mouth with warm, salty water every 2-3 hours for 3-5 days.
  • Avoid chewing on the treated side for the first few days.
  • Opt for a liquid and soft diet.
  • Follow your dentist's prescription.
  • Respect the follow-up sessions for fast and optimal healing.

How to prevent a gum abscess

Preventing tooth abscesses starts with good oral hygiene, including regular toothbrushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

You must also clean the spaces between your teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes.

There are also alcohol-free mouthwashes available for daily use. Check with your dentist before purchasing one.

In addition to reducing the risk of a gum abscess, these tools help you to:
  • Remove plaque;
  • Prevent tartar build-up;
  • Minimize the risk of cavities.

Remember to visit your dentist regularly, at least once a year, to check your dental health.
During these visits, your dentist can spot the early stages of gum abscess. He or she may also suggest a professional dental cleaning to prevent gum disease and cavities.

Last but not least, pay attention to your diet. Reduce sweets and acidic foods and avoid products that are too rich in starch, as this increases the risk of tooth decay and disturbs the oral microbiome.
A balanced diet helps limit oral infections, thus reducing the risk of gum abscesses.