An abscessed tooth is nothing to play around with. It’s one of the more serious dental emergencies one can face. Early intervention is vital to avoid long-term and possibly severe dental repercussions. A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection that collects in one spot somewhere along the tooth’s anatomy. There are three different abscesses – a periapical abscess, which occurs at the root tip; a periodontal abscess, which occurs in the gum tissue alongside the tooth root; and a gingival abscess that occurs directly on the gum tissue. All are severe conditions. If you think that you may have an abscess, schedule an appointment with one of our dentists right away.

Signs and Symptoms of a Dental Abscess

It’s good to know the symptoms of a dental abscess so you can seek treatment as soon as possible. One of the first things you’ll probably notice is tooth pain. Abscesses are very painful, and you’ll usually notice a throbbing pain around the tooth that often radiates into the jawbone, neck, or ear. You may develop a sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, and chewing becomes very painful. Your cheeks and/or face may swell up, and the lymph nodes in your neck or under your jaw become swollen and tender to the touch. If you notice an unpleasant salty taste in the mouth followed by relief from the pain, that means that your abscess has probably ruptured.

What Causes a Tooth Abscess?

Bacteria is the root cause of all abscesses, but how the bacteria invade the tooth determines what type of abscess you have. A periapical abscess occurs when you get an infection within the pulp of your teeth. Tooth decay leads to a cavity, allowing bacteria to enter the soft tissue that makes up the inner part of your tooth. The pulp contains all the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue that makes up the tooth, so if an abscess forms here, it is usually extremely painful. A periodontal abscess is often caused by gum disease, where bacteria invade the gum line. In contrast, a gingival abscess is usually caused by a foreign body letting lodged in the gum tissue.

What to Do If You Have a Dental Abscess

We cannot stress enough that dental abscesses are an emergency. You cannot treat an abscess at home, so you need to see your dentist right away. Even if the abscess ruptures and the pain goes away, the infection is still present. If a dental abscess is left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the jaw, head, and neck, including your brain.

In rare cases, the infection spreads to the blood, leading to sepsis, a life-threatening complication. If you’ve been experiencing severe pain in your teeth and develop symptoms such as high fever, difficulty swallowing, facial swelling, rapid heart rate, or confusion, you should visit your local emergency room as these are signs that the infection has spread.

So, let’s assume that you’ve not ignored the pain and have called your dentist. You can do some things at home to treat dental abscesses and get some pain relief until your appointment. Placing a cold compress against the cheek on the side it hurts can reduce pain and swelling. Rinsing your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash also eases symptoms, especially if the abscessed tooth has ruptured and is draining. You can make a rinse at home by stirring a few teaspoons of salt into a cup of warm water or mixing a one-to-one ratio of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help ease your discomfort. Just remember that none of these home remedies will cure the infection.

How is an abscessed tooth treated?

Dental abscesses are a serious condition, but luckily it’s one our dentists are very familiar with. The first thing they’ll do is take a good look inside your mouth, paying close attention to your teeth and gums. Next, your they may take an x-ray to identify the affected tooth. It can also show if the infection has spread to other areas of your mouth.

Once the abscessed tooth has been found, dental treatment can begin. If possible, the first thing they’ll do is drain the abscess by making a tiny incision to allow any buildup of fluid to escape. Next, they will flush the affected tooth with saline and remove any dead tissue. Sometimes it’s not possible to drain the infection, so our dentists will prescribe a course of antibiotics to reduce the infection to a point where treatment is possible.

If the infection is more advanced, a root canal treatment may be the only option to save the tooth. A root canal removes the nerves, arteries, and veins that live at the center of the root of a tooth. It helps remove and drain dental abscesses that are not otherwise easily reachable. Once the infection heals, a crown is added to preserve what’s left of the tooth. In extreme cases, abscessed teeth are not treatable. In these cases, tooth extraction may be necessary.

Aftercare and Recovery

Once treated, you can expect an abscessed tooth to heal in one to two weeks. It will be important to follow the aftercare instructions our dentists prescribe. Antibiotics must be taken exactly as prescribed to reduce the risk of further infection. Eat soft foods until the redness and swelling go down, and avoid touching the part of your mouth that was treated. Gentle exercise such as walking is encouraged, but you should avoid activities that will increase your heart rate too much. If you develop a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, call us right away. This could be a sign the infection is spreading despite treatment. If you are not able to reach your dentist, visit your local emergency room.


A tooth abscess is best to avoid altogether, especially if you have a weakened immune system. Maintaining good oral health by following a solid dental hygiene routine greatly reduces your risk of developing an abscessed tooth. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and visit your dentist regularly. Avoiding tobacco products and limiting sugary and acidic food and beverages also pave the way to healthy teeth and gums. Spending a few minutes a day on dental care will help you avoid many oral health problems in the future.

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