What is an Abscess?


By Dr. Presley-Nelson

The word abscess conjures up the mental picture of a fluid or pus filled area of infection in our minds, such as an abscess on an injured leg that needs to be cleaned out and medicated. This mental picture serves well to describe intra-oral abscesses. There are 2 kinds of dental abscess to address.

One type is called “endodontic” abscess because of the latin root word “endo” meaning “within” or “inside“. “Dont” is Latin for tooth. This abscess is from the death and infection of the dental nerve or “pulp” that is INSIDE the tooth. This is treated by cleaning out the dead and infected pulp, and filling the area with clean sterile material, along with the possible administering of an antibiotic. We call that “root canal therapy” or “root canal treatment“. Some symptoms of endodontic abscess are pain upon biting or pressure, and sometimes a deep ache or throb. The pain comes from the accumulation of pus and infection in the tissues surrounding the tip of the root.

Another kind of abscess is called “periodontic abscess” because of the latin root word “perio” which means “around” and again, “dont” meaning tooth. This abscess has nothing to do with the nerve inside the tooth. Instead it is an accumulation of pus and infection along the side of the tooth, in the periodontal ligament that lines the socket. This comes from gum infection, surrounding the tooth, and is usually started by deep gum pockets that fester. It is treated by cleaning out the gum pocket and possibly by the use of antibiotics or antimicrobials.

Read more about endodontic abscess in the article “Reversible and Irreversible Pulpitis. Read about preventing gum disease and periodontal abscess in articles about plaque control under Patient Education.