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Tooth Abscess


Tooth Abscess

When bacteria cause pus to fill up around the tooth, it is known as tooth abscess. This condition can be seen at the tip of the root (periapical abscess). It can also show up on the gums beside a tooth root(periodontal abscess).

This post focuses on the periapical abscess. A periapical abscess typically happens when a tooth injury, cavity or previous oral work wasn’t treated.

An abscess is treated by draining the pus and removing the infection. Your tooth may be restored using root canal treatment; other times, it may have to be extracted. Not treating a tooth abscess can result in chronic complications that may take life.

Symptoms of tooth abscess

  • Intense, continuous, throbbing toothache that spread to the neck, jawbone and ear
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold substances
  • Sensitivity to biting and chewing pressure
  • Swollen face or cheek
  • Fever
  • Sore and enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or under the jaw
  • A sudden release of a salty fluid that tastes and smells bad in your mouth, and pain relief, if the abscess ruptures
  • Breathing or swallowing difficulty

When to get medical care

Go to the dentist as soon as you begin to experience tooth abscess symptoms.

You can see your dentist and visit the emergency room for symptoms like swollen face, fever, problem swallowing, or breathing. It may be that the disease has radiated to other body parts.

What causes it?

A periapical abscess occurs when bacteria reach the dental pulp (the core of the tooth carrying nerves, connective tissue and blood vessels). The entry mode for bacteria may be via a chipped or cracked tooth or dental cavity from where they spread to the root. A swollen and inflamed root tip may develop due to the infection.

What are the risk factors?

  • Sugar-rich foods: Excessive consumption of sugared drinks and foods can cause cavities and tooth abscesses later on.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Failing to clean your teeth (brushing and flossing) regularly can cause tooth decay, gum disease, abscess, and other oral complications.
  • Dry mouth: Whether it’s age-related or due to certain drugs, dry mouth can elevate the risk of tooth decay.


Without treatment, tooth abscesses will still be present. A ruptured abscess will cause less pain, but you need oral care. Where the abscess is not drained, the infection may progress to your neck and head areas. Sepsis, a life-threatening infection, may even set in.

Having an untreated tooth abscess and an impaired immune system equals a greater risk of spreading infection.


You can stop tooth decay and reduce chances of tooth abscess by:

  • Using drinking water containing fluoride
  • Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste a minimum of two times a day
  • Cleaning between your teeth daily with an inter dental brush
  • Eating healthy foods, avoiding sugary foods and snacking between meals
  • Getting regular dental check-ups and expert cleaning

Diagnosing tooth abscess

Your dentist will examine your tooth and the areas around it. They may also:

  • Tap on your tooth: to know if it’s sensitive to pressure as typical of a periapical abscess
  • X-ray the tooth: to detect an abscess or if the infection has spread
  • Do a CT scan: to check the progress if the infection has spread within the neck

Treating tooth abscess

Your dentist may do any of the following to take out the infection:

  • Incise and drain the abscess: They’ll make a small cut into the abscess and drain it out. Afterwards, the area is washed with saltwater.
  • Root canal: This procedure will save your tooth while removing the infection.
  • Tooth extraction: The infected tooth is pulled out, the abscess is drained, and the infection gets treated.
  • Antibiotics: This medication helps to reduce the spread of the abscess to other body areas and if you have a weak immune system.

Self-care measures

  • Use warm salt water to rinse your mouth
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers

Getting ready for your appointment

Things to do:

  • List all your symptoms, including unrelated signs to your tooth discomfort
  • List all the medications you’re taking
  • Note down questions to ask your dentist: the causes of your symptoms, tests you need and best treatment

Ask other questions as well.

Expect your dentist to ask you many questions about your symptoms and if you’ve had previous teeth trauma.