With appropriate dental treatment, a dental abscess can be treated quite easily. However, in rare cases, complications can occur. Most complications arise as a result of spreading bacterial infection when the abscess is left untreated.
Some of these complications are detailed below.
If a dental abscess is left untreated, a fluid-filled cavity may develop at the bottom of the root of your tooth. This is known as a dental cyst. A cyst can become infected and need treatment with antibiotics. A dental cyst can be removed surgically under local anaesthetic (where the area is numbed).
Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. It is caused by the bacteria in a dental abscess spreading through your bloodstream. This condition can cause fever, nausea and severe pain in the affected bone, which can often be in the area surrounding a dental abscess.
However, as the infection is spread through your blood, it is possible for it to affect any bone in your body. Osteomyelitis can be treated by taking antibiotics orally or injecting them into a vein.
For more information, see Health A-Z: osteomyelitis.
Cavernous sinus thrombosis
This is a rare condition that can occur as a result of bacteria spreading from a dental abscess. It is estimated that 1 in 10 cases of cavernous sinus thrombosis begin as a dental infection.
The spread of bacteria causes a blood clot to form in a large vein at the base of your brain. In severe cases, this condition can be life threatening, but it can usually be treated with antibiotics or surgery to drain the sinus.
For more information, see Health A-Z: cavernous sinus thrombosis.
Ludwig's angina is a serious, potentially fatal infection of the floor of your mouth, which can occur if the bacteria in a dental abscess spread. It causes swelling and pain under your tongue and in your neck, and in severe cases it can obstruct your breathing.
Ludwig's angina can be treated with antibiotics, although an emergency procedure to open the airway (known as a tracheostomy) may be needed if breathing is restricted.
This is an infection of the small, air-filled spaces behind your cheekbones, known as the maxillary sinuses. It can be caused by the spread of bacteria from a dental abscess. Maxillary sinusitis is not serious, but it can cause fever, pain and tenderness across your cheeks. Often it will clear up without treatment but, if necessary, antibiotics may be prescribed.