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Acute Periodontal Conditions



Acute periodontal conditions are a set of rapid-onset ailments that affect the oral cavity.  As opposed to gingivitis or periodontitis, which are chronic infections, these conditions can be associated with pain or discomfort, and may have immediate systemic manifestations.  The symptoms or acute periodontal conditions can be so severe as to create a dental emergency.


Gingival abscess:

An abscess is a gathering of pus in an infected area. A gingival abscess is a painful swelling of the gum that may appear to be red and shiny.  It is tender to touch and can have pus draining from it. It can be caused by bacterial plaque or a foreign object embedded in a sensitive area. Treatment involves draining the pus and cleaning the abscess thoroughly.  The area needs to be numbed for patient comfort.  If promptly treated, gingival abscesses should not leave any scarring or long term complications.


Periodontal abscess:

A periodontal abscess exhibits similar signs and symptoms as a gingival abscess, but with the infection involving the bone and tissues that support the tooth.  The involved tooth can become mobile and sensitive to touch due to rapid bone loss around it.  To treat a periodontal abscess, the area needs to be numbed and the abscess drained.  The tooth may need to be scaled in order to remove the irritants that caused the infection.  It may be necessary to irrigate the abscess with special antimicrobial solutions or to take systemic antibiotics.  The tooth may need to be adjusted so that the bite is more comfortable.  If the abscess is severe, it may require surgical treatment or even removal of the tooth.  A thorough periodontal evaluation is recommended after emergency treatment to identify other possible problem areas.


Periodontal / endodontic abscess:

This is a combined infection of the gum, bone and the nerve in the root canal of the tooth.  It can be caused by a gum infection that progressed to the tip of the tooth, infecting the nerve in the root canal, or by a nerve infection that is draining through the gum tissue.  Either way, the signs and symptoms are the same as with a periodontal or gum abscess.  Treatment may include periodontal (as above) and/or root canal therapy. 


Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis [ANUG]:

Painful ulcers that bleed easily characterize this generalized, acute condition of the gums.  Bad breath can also be present.  Systemic manifestations include fever and lymph node enlargement.  ANUG is associated with stress, smoking, poor nutrition and people with immunodeficiencies (including HIV).  Untreated ANUG can progress to NUP (necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis) in which there is bone loss around the teeth and eventually tooth loss.  Treatment of ANUG includes a cleaning of the teeth and irrigation of the gums.  Plaque control is very important after initial treatment.  If it is difficult to brush or floss, oral rinses may be prescribed.  Antibiotic treatment may be necessary if there is systemic involvement such as fever.


Herpetic gingivostomatitis:

This is another generalized acute condition of the gums and soft tissues of the mouth.  It is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. There may be multiple ulcers and fever.  Swollen lymph nodes and malaise may also be associated with herpetic gingivostomatitis.  This condition is self-limiting and resolves in ten to fifteen days. For patient comfort, treatment includes application of a numbing agent (topical anesthetic) and a thorough cleaning of the ulcers. This is followed by oral hygiene instructions and proper nutritional intake information. Under some circumstances, antiviral medications may be prescribed. Herpetic gingivostomatitis is contagious, and intimate contact should be avoided during the healing period.



This is an inflammation and infection of the tissues that cover the chewing surfaces of the teeth that are not fully erupted.  The gums in that area can be red, swollen and painful to touch. It may also be difficult to open the mouth.  In addition there can be a discharge of pus.  Like with all other infections, pericoronitis can spread and create further systemic complications like lymph node enlargement, fever, and malaise.  Pericoronitis is treated with a thorough cleaning and irrigation of the affected area.  It may be necessary to surgically reshape the gum around the partially erupted tooth or to remove the tooth.  Antibiotic treatment may also be necessary.


Acute periodontal conditions may be manifestations of pre-existing periodontal problems that result in an acute problem and a dental emergency.  The best way to prevent dental emergencies is to maintain oral health and visit your dental care provider routinely for examinations.


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