Let’s say your little girl snacks on a bowl of popcorn with her friends on movie night and a hull gets lodged between her tooth and gum. Maybe she doesn’t even notice at first but it stays in there. Best case, it will be an uncomfortable irritation; but it may also fester and turn into an abscess and that’s not a good thing.
An abscess forms as an area of pus in our body’s reaction to fight against infection, can develop nearly anywhere in the body, and come in varying degrees of severity.
Gum abscesses in children
As if children’s usual growing pains—new teeth, bones getting bigger, intermittently effective immune systems—weren’t enough; an abscess in their gums can bring a whole other level of discontent. It usually starts as a cavity and then expands from the gum, similar to a pimple.
Many times there is no initial pain or swelling but inflammation from abscess near lower teeth has the potential to affect a child’s airway and make it difficult to breathe. Abscesses around upper teeth can transfer inflammation to the brain and if not addressed may be life-threatening.
As you can see, if you’re not looking for them or unaware of their consequences, abscesses can quickly become serious. Fortunately, warning signs including oral pain and facial swelling are clear and easily noticed indicators and the overall number of children affected by dental abscesses is very low.
Gum abscess symptoms
If there is any kind of silver lining with children’s gum abscesses, it is their obvious symptoms. A gum abscess almost always results in pain from the pressure of the trapped pus and the pain can spread to ears, neck, and jaw. Even if not visible, your child will let you know something is wrong.
Visible signs, however, can and do develop, including swelling or redness in the face, and shiny, swollen gums. You may also smell bad breath on your child or they may complain of a bad taste that won’t go away.
Here are some common signs of abscesses parents should be aware of:
- Spontaneous tooth pain
- Facial swelling
- Pain when chewing
- Teeth sensitive to hot or cold
- Swollen neck glands or jaw
If your child is showing any of these signs you may want to schedule a visit with a Children’s Dentist.
How to prevent gum abscesses
If you suspect a gum abscess in your child’s gums, get them to a dentist immediately. Abscesses don’t heal on their own accord and can easily damage surrounding teeth, and potentially spread the infection to other parts of the body.
Abscesses are best treated by eliminating the cause and draining any pus buildup. In the event something is trapped between teeth and gums, like a popcorn kernel, the dentist will remove it and drain pus through an incision in the gum tissue.
Relief will follow very soon after the procedure and gentle pain medications or antibiotics may be prescribed. But how best to prevent gum abscesses in the first place?
There are a number of proven methods to keep abscesses at bay, starting with diligent oral health care. Your child should brush his teeth at least twice a day as soon as his first teeth grow in. Flossing should happen at least once a day. Younger children may need a helping hand to do a thorough cleaning and parents are advised to check their child’s teeth for trouble spots.
A few other handy prevention tips include:
Limiting sweets and snacking. If your child is a forage snacker, this can contribute to the formation of gum abscesses. Crackers and breads are a favorite kid snack and the sugar and starch therein is an ideal breeding ground for tooth decay-causing bacteria. Processed foods are especially troublesome and parents would do well to eliminate soda completely from their family’s diet.
Consider visiting a pediatric dentist with the skills and patience to treat young children, especially when it comes to more severe oral issues. Regular visits to your family dentist also helps keep your child’s gums and teeth healthy. Plan on checkups every six months.
Don’t just “wait and see” how it goes. If your child has a troubling cavity, it’s never wise to let it be and hope it doesn’t get worse. Be vigilant and present.