An abscess is a painful infection that arises when bacteria gain access to the pulp tissues of a tooth by way of a crack, leaking dental restoration like a crown or large filling, or even the lateral canal which may naturally occur and be exposed to the oral cavity by gum recession. Many different species of bacteria are found in the mouth, and the ones that decay teeth may be different from those that produce abscesses. A decayed tooth simply creates favorable conditions for bacteria to multiply. The body responds to foreign invaders like bacteria by increasing blood flow to the tooth to deliver specialized cells that can fight the infection. The increased blood flow to the tooth, known as "hyperemia" produces intense pressure inside, because teeth are rigid and cannot swell. Pressure on the nerves inside leads to a severe toothache. Eventually, the tooth's fresh blood suppy is cut off by the high pressure inside of it, and the tissue inside dies. The tooth may stop hurting, but the problem has simply changed location.
The infection then spreads into the jaw bone, where fluid accumulation causes throbbing, swelling, and sometimes numbness. An abscess is a true dental emergency, and is usually treated by some combination of antibiotic therapy, endodontic treatment (or "root canal") or removal of the tooth.
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