What are Gumboils?

The ‘pockets’ around the teeth are also prone to infec­tions that can cause acute gumboils. In essence these are no different from any other abscess, a result of the body defending itself against an infection. They are full of pus, which is just a collection of dead tissue and white blood cells that have died in the cause of stopping the infection spreading. There are also chronic infections where pus drains persistently into the mouth through the gap between the tooth and the bone. This results in both a bad taste and bad breath smells. Both infections destroy the support­ing bone.


A second form of gumboil is a tooth abscess caused by a tooth dying, perhaps the result of a blow or decay reach­ing the pulp (the ‘nerve’). This is called an apical abscess. The process leading to the tooth dying may be extremely painful, although at other times it may not be noticed at all. Pain is caused by an acute inflammation or infection of the pulp. This is soft tissue with both a blood and nerve supply. The infection and inflammation make it swell up. But as there is nowhere for this swelling to expand, the pulp effectively strangles itself. This increased pressure adds its own characteristic dimension to the pain. As the pulp is the only conductor of blood (and so oxygen) to the tooth, once the pulp has died, the tooth has also died.


The infection in the pulp tracks to the end of the tooth (the apex) and into the bone. It can either bide its time here quietly, or it can almost explode. In the former case it tends to create what is known as an area, after its x-ray appearance, a dark area in lighter bone. It may also form a cyst, which is a space filled with fluid contained in a membrane. In the acute version, the infection (the abscess) cannot escape through the tooth into the mouth, so it tracks through the bone along the lines of the weakest parts. This causes typical swelling. Pain also occurs when pressure is put on the tooth. Only when the pus reaches the outside through the gum and discharges into the mouth is the pain relieved.


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