Oral health is an essential aspect of our overall well-being, and yet many people overlook its importance. In fact, tooth decay is the most commonly overlooked health issue in the world, with approximately 2.5 billion people affected by it.
One of the lesser-known but potentially severe dental conditions is a dental fistula. This small but serious condition can cause oral infection and damage to your oral health.
Nevertheless, do not worry. This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth look at dental fistulas, including their causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
We will also explore the differences between dental fistulas and abscesses, as well as answer some common questions surrounding this relatively uncommon but painful condition.
Dental Fistula: What Is It? A Quick Look
A dental fistula, also known as a "gum boil" or "parulis," is a small, pus-filled sac that forms on the gums or bone as a result of an infection.
Dental fistulas typically occur when bacteria from an untreated tooth infection, such as an abscess, spread to the surrounding tissues. This infection creates a tunnel through which pus can drain, resulting in a visible, fluid-filled sac.
Dental Fistula On The Gum
A dental fistula that forms on the gum is usually visible as a small, raised bump filled with pus. It may be red, swollen, and painful to touch. In some cases, the pus may drain from the fistula, leaving a foul taste in the mouth and causing bad breath.
Dental Fistula Pictures
A dental fistula typically depicts a small hole or channel between the root of a tooth and the surrounding gum tissue. These images may show visible signs of infection or inflammation in the area, such as swelling, redness, or discharge.
The pictures below show dental fistulas for dentists to diagnose and treat and for patients to better understand their oral health.
Causes Of A Dental Fistula
From tooth decay and gum disease to trauma and infection, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to the formation of a dental fistula. The good news is that by understanding the underlying causes, you can take proactive steps to prevent this pesky problem and protect your oral health.
The several potential causes of a dental fistula include:
Deep Tooth Decay
Deep tooth decay can cause a dental fistula on the gum by allowing bacteria to penetrate the tooth and infect the surrounding gum tissue.
Tooth decay can penetrate the inner layers of a tooth, known as the dentin and pulp. When decay reaches the pulp of the tooth, which contains nerves and blood vessels, it can cause an infection that can spread to the surrounding bone and gum tissue.
Bacteria from the decay can infect the tooth's nerve and blood supply, leading to an abscess. If the abscess is not treated, the infection can spread to the surrounding tissues, resulting in a dental fistula.
Periodontic illnesses, such as periodontitis, are infections of the gums and bones that support the teeth. Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease that can cause a dental fistula by creating an opening between the gum tissue and the tooth root.
As the disease progresses, the gum tissue and bone that support the teeth can become damaged or destroyed, leading to the formation of pockets between the teeth and gums.
These pockets can harbor bacteria that can cause an infection, leading to the formation of an abscess. In the same way as tooth decay, if the abscess is left untreated, it can cause pressure to build up and create a channel or hole between the tooth root and the gum tissue, resulting in a dental fistula.
In severe cases, periodontitis can cause bone loss and tooth loss, making it crucial to address these infections promptly.
Badly Performed Root Canal
A poorly executed root canal treatment can lead to a dental fistula. An abscess may develop due to poor treatment leaving infected or inflamed tissue around the tooth root. Unless the abscess is properly treated, it may result in a hole or channel between the tooth root and the gum tissue, resulting in a dental fistula.
This can occur if the root canal procedure does not effectively remove all of the infected or inflamed tissue, or if the filling material used to seal the root canal is inadequate or dislodged.
Impacted wisdom teeth, which are wisdom teeth that do not fully erupt and become trapped in the gum or bone, can also cause dental fistulas. The trapped tooth can become infected, leading to the formation of an abscess and, ultimately, a dental fistula. Around 90% of all people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth, making this a matter of concern.
It's important to have impacted wisdom teeth evaluated by a dental professional to determine if they need to be removed to prevent the development of a dental fistula and other dental problems.
Symptoms Of A Dental Fistula
The symptoms of a dental fistula can vary depending on the severity and location of the infection. Common signs and symptoms include:
- A small, pus-filled bump on the gums or the surrounding bone
- Redness and swelling around the bump
- Pain and discomfort in the affected area
- A foul taste in the mouth and bad breath (if the pus drains from the fistula)
- Fever, chills, and general feelings of malaise (in severe cases)
It is essential to consult your dentist if you suspect you have a dental fistula, as early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications and ensure proper healing.
How To Treat A Dental Fistula
The treatment for a dental fistula typically depends on the cause of the infection. Your dentist will first assess the severity of the condition and determine the underlying cause before recommending a treatment plan.
Common treatment options for dental fistula on the gum include:
- Antibiotics - In some cases, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics, typically amoxicillin and penicillin with or without clavulanic acid, to help eliminate the infection causing the dental fistula.
- Root canal therapy - If the dental fistula is caused by an infected tooth, a root canal procedure may be necessary to remove the tooth's nerve and blood supply and clean the infected area.
- Tooth extraction - In severe cases or when the tooth cannot be saved through root canal therapy, your dentist may recommend extracting the tooth to eliminate the infection.
- Surgical drainage - If the dental fistula is large or not healing on its own, your dentist may need to surgically drain the pus and clean the infected area.
It is crucial to follow your dentist's recommendations and complete any prescribed treatments to ensure the dental fistula heals properly and prevents further complications.
How To Prevent Dental Fistula
Prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to dental health. Maintaining good oral hygiene and regularly visiting your dentist are essential steps in preventing dental fistulas.
Some additional tips for preventing dental fistulas include:
Cleaning your teeth at least two times per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste aids in the elimination of plaque and bacteria that can cause tooth decay and infection.
Flossing Every Day
Daily flossing is crucial for removing plaque and food debris from between your teeth, where your toothbrush cannot reach. Flossing can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, both of which can lead to dental fistulas.
Using Toothpaste With Mouthwash
Using toothpaste that contains an antimicrobial mouthwash can help kill bacteria in your mouth and reduce your risk of developing dental fistulas.
Antimicrobial mouthwash contains ingredients, such as chlorhexidine, that are specifically designed to kill bacteria. When used in combination with toothpaste, it can help to remove plaque and food particles from the teeth while also killing bacteria that can cause infections and inflammation in the gums.
Eating a healthy diet can help prevent dental fistulas by promoting good oral hygiene and reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Some healthy foods that can benefit your dental health include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables - These foods are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that can help strengthen teeth and gums.
- Calcium-rich foods - Foods such as dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified cereals can provide the calcium needed to build and maintain strong teeth and bones.
- Foods rich in vitamin C - Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help protect gum tissue and prevent gum disease.
- Foods low in sugar - Sugar can feed bacteria in the mouth and contribute to tooth decay, so it's important to choose foods that are low in sugar.
By incorporating these healthy foods into your diet, you can help prevent dental problems like dental fistulas and keep your teeth and gums healthy for years to come.
Chewing Sugar-Free Gum
Chewing sugar-free gum after meals can help prevent dental fistulas by stimulating the production of saliva, which can help wash away food particles and neutralize harmful acids in the mouth. The act of chewing also helps to promote blood flow to the gums, which can improve their overall health.
Eating Dairy Products
Eating dairy products can help prevent dental fistulas by providing the calcium and other nutrients needed to build and maintain strong teeth and bones.
Calcium is an essential mineral for dental health, and dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich sources of this nutrient. In addition to calcium, dairy products also contain phosphorus and vitamin D, which are important for strong teeth and bones.
Scheduling A Regular Appointment With Your Dentist
Scheduling regular dental appointments with your dentist is an important step in preventing dental fistulas and other oral health problems. By maintaining regular dental checkups, you can catch dental problems early and receive prompt treatment to prevent more serious complications.
It is generally recommended to visit the dentist every six months, but your dentist may recommend a different schedule based on your individual needs.
Dental Fistulas Vs. Abscesses
Dental fistulas and abscesses are related but distinct dental conditions. An abscess is a localized collection of pus caused by an infection, while a dental fistula is a tunnel that forms to allow pus to drain from an abscess or other infected area. In many cases, dental fistulas are a direct result of untreated abscesses.
Both dental fistulas and abscesses can cause pain, swelling, and discomfort, and both require professional dental treatment to address the underlying infection and prevent complications.
What Kind Of Complaints Does A Tooth Fistula Cause?
A tooth fistula can cause a variety of complaints and discomforts, including:
- Pain and tenderness in the affected area
- Swelling and redness around the dental fistula
- A foul taste in the mouth and bad breath (if the pus drains from the fistula)
- Difficulty chewing or biting down on the affected tooth
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
These complaints can significantly impact your quality of life and make everyday activities, such as eating and speaking, more challenging. It is essential to seek treatment for a dental fistula as soon as possible to alleviate these symptoms and prevent further complications.
What Will Happen If A Fistula Is Left Untreated?
If a dental fistula on the gum is left untreated, the infection can spread to surrounding tissues and even other parts of your body. This can lead to serious complications, such as:
- Tooth loss - The infection can damage the tooth's nerve and blood supply, ultimately leading to tooth loss if not treated promptly.
- Bone loss - The infection can spread to the surrounding bone, causing bone loss and potentially affecting the stability of neighboring teeth.
- Sepsis - In severe cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.
It is crucial to seek treatment for a dental fistula as soon as possible to prevent these complications and ensure proper healing.
Check out these commonly asked questions about dental fistula to uncover additional information to keep your oral health in check.
Is A Dental Fistula Dangerous?
While a dental fistula may not be life-threatening in most cases, it can pose significant health risks if left untreated. As mentioned previously, untreated dental fistulas can lead to tooth loss, bone loss, and even sepsis in severe cases.
Furthermore, dental fistulas can lead to considerable pain and discomfort, affecting your daily life and making simple tasks more challenging. It is crucial to promptly seek treatment for a dental fistula to reduce these potential consequences and ensure good oral health.
Is A Dental Fistula Common?
Dental fistulas are not as common as other dental conditions, such as cavities or gum disease, but they are not rare either.
Dental fistulas can affect individuals of any age, though they are more prevalent in adults due to the increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Maintaining good oral hygiene and regularly visiting your dentist can help reduce your risk of developing a dental fistula.
Is A Dental Fistula An Emergency?
While a dental fistula may not be a life-threatening emergency in most cases, it is essential to seek dental treatment as soon as possible to address the underlying infection and prevent complications. If you suspect you have a dental fistula, contact your dentist to schedule an appointment for an evaluation and appropriate treatment.
Can A Dental Fistula Make You Sick?
A dental fistula can negatively impact your overall health as the infection causing the fistula can spread to other parts of your body if left untreated. Moreover, the discomfort and pain caused by a dental fistula can impede your daily activities and have a negative impact on your overall health.
Can Dental Fistula Cause Cancer?
There is no direct link between dental fistulas and cancer. However, untreated dental infections, including those that lead to dental fistulas, can have negative effects on your overall health.
While it is essential to address dental infections promptly to maintain good oral health, there is no need to worry about dental fistulas causing cancer.
Can Dental Fistulas Heal On Their Own?
Dental fistulas rarely heal on their own without professional dental treatment. Because dental fistulas are caused by an underlying infection, it is crucial to address the source of the infection to promote proper healing.
In some cases, a dental fistula may appear to heal temporarily, only to return later if the infection is not adequately treated. As a result, it is crucial to seek advice from your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect the presence of a dental fistula.
Do Dental Fistulas Go Away?
Generally speaking, dental fistulas cannot self-heal, and your dentist will have to identify the origin of the infection.
With proper dental treatment, however, dental fistulas can typically heal and go away. Your dentist will determine the cause of the dental fistula and recommend an appropriate treatment plan, which may include antibiotics, root canal therapy, tooth extraction, or surgical drainage.
By addressing the underlying infection and following your dentist's recommendations, you can expect to recover from a dental fistula.
Do Dental Fistulas Hurt?
Dental fistulas can cause varying levels of pain and discomfort, depending on the severity and location of the infection. Some individuals may experience mild discomfort, while others may experience significant pain, especially when chewing or applying pressure to the affected area. The pain and discomfort associated with dental fistulas can be alleviated with appropriate dental treatment.
How Long Does A Dental Fistula Last?
The duration of a dental fistula depends on the severity of the infection and the effectiveness of the chosen treatment plan. With prompt and appropriate dental treatment, a dental fistula can typically heal within a few weeks.
However, more severe cases or those that involve complications may take longer to heal. Following your dentist's recommendations and maintaining good oral hygiene can help ensure proper healing and prevent the dental fistula from returning.
A dental fistula can be a potentially severe dental condition that requires prompt attention and professional treatment. By maintaining good oral hygiene and regularly visiting your dentist, you can reduce your risk of developing dental fistulas and maintain good oral health.
If you suspect you have a dental fistula, it is crucial to seek dental treatment as soon as possible to address the underlying infection and prevent complications.
Remember, your oral health is an essential aspect of your overall well-being, and taking care of your teeth and gums should always be a priority.