Tooth Abscess | Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

woman holding her mouth due to pain caused by a tooth abscess

A Tooth Abscess or Dental Abscess is an accumulation of pus. There are a few reasons a dental abscess may occur, but most commonly it is resulting from a dental infection. It is not always visible in the mouth but can be seen on an x-ray.  If untreated, this condition can cause extreme pain and swelling and can progress to a severe, life-threating infection. In this article, Dr. Rozelle Owens will explain how to treat a dental abscess and its causes and symptoms.

What is an abscessed tooth and what are its symptoms?

In most of the cases, a dental abscess starts as untreated tooth decay. Bacteria invade and infect the dental which is the inner part of the tooth where the nerve and blood vessels of the tooth are. The nerve and blood vessels die, and the infection spreads to the apex of the tooth where a dental abscess forms. Trauma to the tooth can also cause pulpal death and an abscess. Sometimes there may be a small sinus that looks like a spot on the gum with pus exuding from it. The spot may burst and appear to disappear only to reappear as more pus accumulates.

abscess formation and treatment

Dental Abscess can also be caused by gum diseases, like gingivitis or periodontitis. These type of abscess are in the gum and will present as a swelling around the neck of the tooth and can be very painful.

In the infected tooth, the following signs and symptoms are usually present:

  • Pain – a constant throbbing and pulsing pain around the tooth or affected gingival area, which may intensify when chewing or lying down that keeps you awake at night.
  • Inflammation of the gingiva (gum disease) – redness, or swelling of the gums;
  • Swelling around the affected tooth that can spread to the surrounding tissues, in severe cases this can restrict the airways which is very serious
  • Swollen lymph nodes;
  • Difficulty in opening the jaw.
  • Bad breath or bitter taste in the mouth;

You should urgently seek the dentist if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, usually already associated with advanced stages of tooth abscess:

  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Fever;
  • Chills;
  • Diarrhea.
  • Difficulty breathing

“If the pulp in the root of the tooth degenerates and dies as a result of infection, the toothache may stop. However, this does not mean that the infection has been cleared. This is only the start, once the pulp dies, the infection will follow, and a dental abscess will form, treatment from a dentist is the only solution. The abscess has now reached a chronic infected state. This can develop at any point to an acute infection which will be very painful and dangerous”, says Dr. Rozelle. If you experience any of the symptoms described above, it is important to consult your dentist, even if the pain disappears.

How dangerous is an abscessed tooth? Can an infection from a tooth kill you?

If the tooth abscess is not treated, it can lead to tooth loss and significant lesions in the surrounding tissues. The infection can spread to other organs of the body and can lead to breathing problems, bacterial heart disease and a blood infection known as sepsis; all life threatening. So yes, not treating the infection can become a dangerous issue for the patient’s health and a tooth infection can be lethal. For this reason, it is important that the appointment with the dentist is made right after the first signs and symptoms.  Unlike other parts of the body, infection in the teeth will not self-resolve, treatment is the only solution.

What is the treatment for Tooth Abscess?

The treatment of a dental abscess is done according to its location, evolution and the affected areas. It may be necessary to have an x-ray of the tooth to check if there are no infections in other parts of the mouth, which have not yet formed abscesses.

To eliminate the infection, the abscess may have to be drained. The dentist will make sure that the area is numb. Then, make a small incision or cut in the area of the abscess, remove or let drain the pus and clean the area with an antiseptic solution. This procedure usually allows an immediate relief of symptoms but, remember; this does not mean that the infection has been cleared. The dentist will proceed to remove all of the affected contents inside the tooth and finally restore the crown of the tooth – in other words; the dentist will perform root canal therapy.

In some incidence, the tooth may need to be extracted in cases where it is no longer possible to restore the affected tooth.

Antibiotics

If the infection is limited to the area of the abscess, you may not need antibiotics. But if the infection has spread and you have swelling and fever; it will probably be necessary to prescribe antibiotics.

In addition, you should not stop using the medication without consulting your dentist, even if the symptoms stop completely.

Can I treat an abscessed tooth at home?

No, there is no home treatment for a dental abscess. Do not attempt to pierce or burst your pocket. In case the tooth abscess drains spontaneously, the pain may subside, but this will not mean that the treatment should be stopped or that you are cured. The infection may spread to other areas of the mouth, and may even reach other parts of the body.

salt water mouth wash to relieve tooth abscess pain

At home, applying cold compresses can help relieve inflammation. Beware of some homemade or natural treatment sometimes described on some blogs as certain substances can further aggravate the problem. Warm salt-water rinses will help clean the mouth, encourage drainage and alleviate discomfort until you are able to see your dentist. Painkillers can relieve the discomfort and diminish the pain, but they will not treat the abscess.


If you think you have a tooth abscess, make an appointment at D4Dentist. Do not be afraid. We cater for nervous patients, and we ensure that your experience will be stress-and-pain-free.

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