If you have an infection, you'd hope that the cause can quickly be uncovered, allowing for treatment. When it comes to some types of dental infections, your dentist sometimes needs to do a little bit of detective work before determining the origin of your infection. This is the case when it comes to dental sinus tracts.
A Different Type of Sinus
Part of the initial mystery can be in the name, as your dental sinus tracts aren't related to the sinuses surrounding your nasal cavity. The dental sinus tract is actually a tiny passage that has formed in your gingival tissue as your immune system's response to a nearby dental infection.
The tract permits drainage of accumulated pus and culminates in a small, pimple-like growth on your gums (often with a noticeable white tip). This growth is generally referred to as a gum boil. Like a boil or a pimple, it can burst, however, you shouldn't attempt to speed up this process. Doing so can risk introducing new bacterial contaminants into your gums. You might not even feel the need to do anything about a gum boil, as the growth is often not painful.
Although a dental sinus tract and its gum boil can be due to an abscessed tooth (which you will certainly feel), it can be due to any chronic infection contained within a tooth, which you won't necessarily feel. However, the lack of discomfort can be misleading, as any infection that has led to the formation of a dental sinus tract and gum boil requires treatment.
Locating the Source
Your dentist can perform a visual inspection, as the tooth from where the sinus tract originated might be obvious. It's not always so simple. When the source tooth isn't evident, your dentist will often use a material known as gutta-percha. This is a natural thermoplastic latex used to fill empty dental pulp chambers after a root canal. Your dentist will then inject a tiny amount of gutta-percha into your dental sinus tract, and will then take an x-ray. The gutta-percha contained within the sinus tract will draw a literal line from the gum boil back to the infected tooth. This tooth can then be treated as necessary (which might involve a root canal).
The appearance of a gum boil means that you're experiencing a dental infection, even if you're not feeling any of the associated discomfort. When a small, pimple-like growth develops on your gums, you must schedule an appointment with a dentist.