(Dental Abscess; Abscessed Tooth)
A tooth abscess is a sac of infected material called pus in a tooth or the gums. Early treatment can prevent tooth loss and the spread of infection to tissue and bone.
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A tooth abscess is caused by bacteria. It begins when bacteria invade and infect the tissue around a tooth. This results in pus build-up. An abscess happens when the pus is unable to drain.
Problems that allow bacteria to invade a tooth are:
- Severe tooth decay
- A break or crack in a tooth
- Failed root canal treatment
- Advanced periodontitis
- Dental trauma
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- A build up of tartar beneath the gum line
- Poor dental hygiene
Problems may be:
- Throbbing and pain in a tooth or gum area
- Sudden tooth pain
- Pain when biting
- Pain from hot or cold
- Redness, tenderness, or swelling of the gums
- Bad breath or a foul taste in the mouth
- An open, draining sore on the gums
- A loose tooth
Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and health history. A dental exam will be done.
Images may be taken of the tooth and surrounding bone. This can be done with x-rays.
A sample of the abscess fluid may be taken and tested.
The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and treat the infection. Options are:
These procedures may be done to get rid of the infection:
- Drainage—An incision is made in the abscess to allow pus to drain from it
- Root canal—Pus and decayed tissue are removed from the inside of the tooth, then it is filled and sealed
- Tooth removal—A tooth with severe decay or infection is removed. It can be replaced with a partial bridge, denture, or tooth implant
Medicine may be given to ease pain. Antibiotics will be given to treat the infection.
To lower the risk of this problem:
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush with fluoride toothpaste after meals or at least twice per day.
- Floss every day.
- Get regular dental check-ups and teeth and gum cleanings every 6 months.
Academy of General Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
Abscess (toothache). Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/abscess. Accessed September 16, 2021.
Acute apical dental abscess. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-apical-dental-abscess. Accessed September 16, 2021.
Dental abscess. NHSinform website. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mouth/dental-abscess. Accessed September 16, 2021.
Toothache and Infection. The Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental-disorders/symptoms-of-dental-and-oral-disorders/toothache-and-infection. Accessed September 16, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary-Beth Seymour, RN Last Updated: 9/16/2021