Abscessed Tooth Symptoms

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Doctor's View on Abscessed Tooth Symptoms

What is an abscessed tooth?

An abscessed tooth is a tooth adjacent to or surrounded by a pocket of pus caused, in most individuals, by a bacterial infection. Two main types occur; periapical abscesses occur at the root of the tooth while periodontal abscesses occur in the gums next to the tooth.

Abscessed tooth symptoms

The initial symptoms begin with localized swelling and pain that gets progressively worse over a few days. A tender and sore mass (the abscess) may be felt with a finger and gingival bleeding may occur. Periapical abscesses may be very sensitive to cold and heat. The infected person may develop fever and a decreased food and/or fluid intake.

Abscessed tooth complications

Plaque, tooth decay, gingival disease, dental surgery, and other less common problems can lead to tooth abscesses. However, dental work, cavities, and injury are the leading causes of periapical abscesses. Both abscess types can lead to serious complications such as fistulas (pathways to other nearby tissues that become infected), osteomyelitis (bone infection), Ludwig angina (rapidly spreading cellulitis that causes neck and tongue swelling that can rapidly lead to airway compromise and death), and sinus and facial infections.

Treatment should begin early to prevent complications. The primary treatment of a dental abscess is to surgically drain the abscess and then provide antibiotics. Most patients do well with this treatment. Most dentists can care for a dental abscess, however, if life-threatening complications such as airway compromise or Ludwig angina develops, emergency medical care should be sought.

Medically reviewed by Kenneth Rotskoff, MD, DDS; Board Certified Dentistry, Oral/Maxillofacial Surgery


Gould, Jane M., et al. "Dental Abscess Medication." Medscape. 30 May 2012.

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