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An abscess is a collection of fluid, sometimes quite thick, made up of infecting bacteria and the body’s cellular response to the bacterial infection.

The commonest source of the infection is a dead dental pulp (the nerve and blood supply inside a tooth) or a “periodontal pocket” (a space between the cementum cells lining the outside of the tooth root and a layer of connective tissue called the periodontal ligament).

The abscess and its volume of fluid content (“pus”) are protected from the body’s immune system, the white blood cells, by a dense layer of tissue meaning that antibiotics may not be able to enter the abscess and kill off the hostile bacteria. This is symbolised in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A martial-art inspired view of an abscess and its treatment

This is why an operation (which may be very small or quite extensive, depending on the situation) is the usual treatment, also symbolised in Figure 1. This releases the pus and allows the protecting white blood cells (and appropriate antibiotics) to gain direct contact with the bacteria.

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