Root Canal Infection and Abscesses

abscess cartoon
Courtesy: Eastman Dental Institute

Once the pulp is infected, there is no place for the infection to move except through the bottom of the root. This leads to abscesses in the soft tissue surrounding the tooth. The technical term is acute periapical periodontitis.

The swelling associated with abscesses can be alarming, but can be remedied by removing the tooth and draining the exudate (puss).

Further spread of the infection into the surrounding bone can cause osteomyelitis or cellulitis, but this is rare.
(Cawson, Odell 1991)


 Radiograph of teeth with caries and a periapical abscess

Impaction can lead to decay and abscess of the tooth and its neighbors.

external view
Abscesses cause swelling in the face

 Abscesses 'burrow' out into the oral cavity, much like cloacas in infections of the long bones.
In the archaeological record, abscesses can be determined by a round hole with smooth edges located at the tip of the root. Post-mortem erosion of the alveolus also looks like this but will leave a much more irregular hole.
(Brothwell 1981)