Exploring Oral Health Symptoms, Issues and Solutions

Everything Smokers Need To Know About Dental Abscesses

It's no secret that smoking tobacco can have many harmful effects on your health, and smokers are particularly vulnerable to dental health problems such as gum disease and tooth loss. However, if you smoke, you may not be aware that smoking also makes you more likely to develop a potentially dangerous type of oral infection known as a dental abscess.

What Are Dental Abscesses?

When the gum tissue around the roots of a tooth is infected by bacteria, the body sends white blood cells and other immune system cells to the site of the infection to kill the bacteria. Some of these white blood cells are killed in the microscopic battle. The dead bodies of white blood cells collect to form a yellow or greenish liquid substance, known as pus.

Ordinarily, this pus is flushed into the bloodstream and disposed of in the same way your body disposes of other waste products. However, if the infection is not brought under control quickly, the body will not be able to drain pus away from the infection site fast enough. A pocket of pus starts to collect beneath the surface of the infected gum tissue, creating a lump known as a dental abscess.

Once a dental abscess forms, white blood cells can no longer fight the living bacteria within the abscess effectively, allowing the dangerous microbes to reproduce. If a dental abscess goes untreated for too long, these bacteria can spread around the body, causing systemic infection. These whole-body infections can be very dangerous, making you very sick and potentially landing you in the hospital.

Why Are Smokers More Vulnerable To Dental Abscesses?

The poisons and contaminants present in tobacco smoke take a serious toll on the immune system, and even occasional smoking can dramatically weaken your immune system. If a smoker's gums become infected with bacteria, the white blood cells sent to the infection site will be weaker and fewer in number than those of a non-smoker in similar health.

Because a smoker's immune system is weaker, more white blood cells are killed while fighting the gum infection, causing dental abscesses to grow larger and more quickly. A weakened immune system also leaves smokers more vulnerable to systemic infections caused by untreated abscesses.

What Should Smokers With Dental Abscesses Do?

Anyone who is suffering from a dental abscess should book an appointment with their dentist as soon as possible before the bacteria within have a chance to spread and do more damage. However, smokers should take extra care to have dental abscesses treated as quickly as possible, as they are more likely to suffer from dangerous complications.

To treat a dental abscess, your dentist will provide you with antibiotic drugs to bolster the immune system, and kill the bacteria in and around the abscess. If the abscess is large or painful, they may also make a small incision in the infected gum tissue, allowing the pus and bacteria within the abscess to drain away.

In some cases, abscesses can infect the pulp inside nearby teeth. In these cases, the dentist will need to make a hole in the tooth so antibacterial treatments can be applied directly to the tooth pulp. If the pulp is badly infected, the damaged tooth may need to be treated with a root canal procedure, or removed entirely. Acting quickly when an abscess develops makes these extreme interventions less likely.

Once the abscess has been successfully treated, quitting smoking is the best way to prevent new abscesses from forming. Once you successfully quit, your body's immune system will start to recover within a few months, improving your overall health and making future dental problems much less likely.

For more information, contact a dentist near you.