The long-term dental abscess.
Recently, a 3000-year-old mummy called Nesperennub revealed some unexpected dental surprises.
The mummy, a priest from Luxor, was discovered in the 1890s in a very fragile state. In 2004, the British Museum gave Nesperennub an extensive CT scan and a 3D representation of the body was created. The mummy was left in his wrappings as it was considered too destructive to remove them. Interestingly, it was discovered that Nesperennub had very bad teeth and an abscess in a lower molar.
While it’s impossible to attribute the dental abscess as the cause of his death, it’s definitely a possibility. We can also be certain that Nesperennub would have been in quite severe pain for a long time. There was no treatment for abscesses at that time and his diet would have consisted of more coarse foods than we eat today. This would have worn down the grinding surface of his teeth and opened up the nerve cavity to infection.
What is an dental abscess?
A dental abscess is a painful condition that’s very dangerous if left untreated. There are two main types—a periapical abscess that appears at the end of the tooth and a periodontal abscess that is positioned in the gum.
A dental abscess forms because of bacterial infection. Bacteria accumulates in the soft pulp of the tooth and is usually a result of tooth decay, broken teeth and poor dental hygiene. Sufferers become aware of an abscess due to pain, hot and cold sensitivity and a bad taste in the mouth. The pain can start quite suddenly and invariably gets much worse over time. The bad taste associated with a dental abscess is due to the localised collection of pus around the site.
How bad can it be?
A severe dental abscess can have devastating long-term consequences. The invasion of bacterials will eventually lead to a necrotic pulp and a necrotic nerve. Once bacteria is established in the jawbone, it can travel throughout the body and causes problems in a number of different organs—the heart in particular.
Bacteria in the heart can lead to endocarditis. This is an inflammation of the heart that can cause permanent damage. Likewise, if bacteria from a dental abscess reaches the lungs, it can cause pneumonia. Many people find it surprising that a bacterial infection in the mouth can have such a negative effect on overall health.
Don’t ignore the signs
Nesperennub still speaks to us from 3000 years ago about the importance of not ignoring dental abscesses. They will not go away if left alone—they need extensive dental treatment by a professional. At the very least, the pus needs to be drained, damaged tissue and tooth structure removed, and antibiotics administered.
To ignore the signs of a dental abscess is extremely dangerous. It can lead to medical conditions that affect the patient for years to come. In a worst-case scenario, those conditions can have life-threatening complications. The simple answer is that if you suspect you have a dental abscess, see your dentist immediately. There is absolutely no advantage in waiting and you may actually be putting your life in danger.
For more information about dental abscesses, please click here.