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Definition

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.

Abscess Between Tooth and Gum
Abscess tooth

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Causes

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

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • A build up of tartar beneath the gum line
  • Poor dental hygiene

Symptoms

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
  • Fever
  • Bad breath or a foul taste in the mouth
  • An open, draining sore on the gums
  • A loose tooth

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and treat the infection. Options are:

Procedures

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

Medication

Medicine may be given to ease pain. Antibiotics will be given to treat the infection.

Prevention

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.
RESOURCES:

Academy of General Dentistry
http://www.agd.org

Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
http://www.mouthhealthy.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Dental Association
http://www.cda-adc.ca

The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
http://www.cdha.ca

REFERENCES:

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