Dental Abscess

An abscess is a sac of pus. A dental abscess forms when a tooth or the tissue around it becomes infected with bacteria. The bacteria can enter through a cavity or a crack in a tooth. It can also infect the gum tissue or bone around a tooth. An untreated abscess can cause the loss of the tooth. It can even spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.

Cross section of two teeth in jawbone. Inside root of healthy tooth is space containing blood vessels and nerves. Cavity in top of unhealthy tooth has caused infection inside tooth. Dental abscess has formed at bottom of tooth root and in bone next to infected root.

Symptoms of a dental abscess 

Signs of a dental abscess include:

  • Toothache, often severe

  • Tooth pain with hot, cold, or pressure

  • Pain in the gums, cheek, or jaw

  • Bad breath or bitter taste in the mouth

  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth

  • Fever

  • Swollen or enlarged glands in the neck

Diagnosing a dental abscess

An abscess is diagnosed by looking at your teeth and gums. You will be told if any tests are needed, such as dental X-rays.

Treating a dental abscess

Treatments for a dental abscess may include the following:

  • Antibiotic medicines. These treat the underlying infection.

  • Pain relievers. These help you feel more comfortable. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine for you. Or you may use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • Warm saltwater rinses. These can soothe discomfort and help clear away pus.

  • Root canal surgery.  This may be done if needed to save the tooth. With a root canal, the infected part of the tooth is removed. A special substance is then used to fill the empty space in the tooth.

  • Draining the abscess. This may be doneif needed. Incisions are made to allow the infected material to drain from the tooth.

  • Removing the tooth. This is done in cases of severe infection that can’t be treated another way.

You may need to be admitted to a hospital if the infection is severe, has spread, or doesn’t respond to treatment.


When to call the dentist

Call your dentist right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Increased pain, redness, drainage, or swelling in the treated area

  • Swelling of the face or jawbone

  • Pain that can't be controlled with medicines

Preventing dental abscess

To prevent another abscess in the future, keep your teeth clean and healthy. Brush twice a day and floss at least once daily. See your dentist for regular tooth cleanings. And stay away from sugary foods and drinks that can lead to tooth decay.