Dental abscesses – when they get serious, our emergency dentist in Edinburgh can help

If you’ve ever had a dental abscess, you probably think there is no point in having it treated if it has burst; however, it can easily progress into life-threatening sepsis. If you have even a single ruptured abscess, you need to visit our emergency dentist in Edinburgh.


An infection can become serious if left untreated for long enough; this can make the difference between a localised infection and one that has become systemic where the bacteria can be found throughout your bloodstream. You might think illnesses like sepsis and gangrene are diseases of the past, and they were indeed a major cause of death before antibiotics.

When treating an infection with antibiotics, what determines the dose that reaches the site of infection is the quality of the blood circulation within that tissue. Locations with low blood flow are very hard to treat with antibiotics as so little of the drug reaches the affected area.

Causes of dental abscesses

Most dental abscesses we see at our emergency dentist in Edinburgh involve debris or food particles managing to get in between the tooth and the gum. From here, they descend the root and accumulate between the root and the jawbone, where they fester and become a breeding ground for bacteria. Not only is this site wedged between two bones, but it is also in an area with almost no blood flow. Your body will do its best to control and contain the infection by building a pocket of cartilage and fibrous tissue around it to isolate it; this is the abscess.

Protection without intervention

There are three probable outcomes to how the abscess will progress without treatment. The infection remains isolated; it continues to expand and build pressure until the tooth above it is eventually forced out of the socket. Here, the abscess will then empty into the open socket. Yes, this is as unpleasant as it sounds, but it’s actually the best case scenario.

Alternatively, the infection could seep into the jawbone, resulting in a bone infection. This is as challenging to treat with antibiotics as the original abscess but can continue to expand inside the bone itself, affecting the entire jaw. Eventually, the only option would be surgery to remove the jaw.

Or, the abscess could rupture internally and empty its contents into the surrounding gum tissue, which quickly finds itself in the bloodstream. At this point, you would feel a sudden release of pressure and a brief respite from the discomfort in your jaw; however, soon, a spike in temperature would occur, and within a few hours, your skin would show grey mottling. You may experience swings of hot and cold temperatures, feeling weak and very ill. If you’ve entered this stage, you are in sepsis and require immediate medical intervention; at the very least, you will require IV antibiotics.

Early treatment and root canals

Many people feel squeamish about the idea of root canals, but it is an extremely safe and effective treatment that not only resolves the underlying abscess but also saves the tooth above it in the vast majority of cases. Delaying treatment will prolong the unpleasantness of having a dental abscess, putting you at serious risk. Contact our emergency dentist in Edinburgh if you think you have an abscess.