Abscessed Tooth: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2019

An abscessed tooth is an infection within a tooth that has spread to the gum tissues around the root. While toothache is a symptom of a bacterial infection of the pulp of the tooth, once the tissue inside the tooth is deprived of blood supply (becomes necrotic or dead), the pain may go away. An abscessed tooth is typically darker than the surrounding teeth. If pain is present, it is often worse when pressing on the affected tooth. Swelling and pus collection within the gum tissue can be present. Swelling may spread to the jaw or face. If the infection has spread to deeper tissues, symptoms such as difficulty swallowing and pain when opening the mouth may be present.

Causes of an abscessed tooth

An abscessed tooth begins with a bacterial infection in the tooth's inner area, known as the pulp. As the bacteria multiply, the infection usually spreads from the pulp chamber and exits through the bottom of the root into the bone. A common cause of a dental abscess is when a dental cavity (tooth decay) becomes so large and deep that it reaches the pulp chamber. An abscess can form as the infection spreads from the pulp of the tooth to the gum and jawbone below. Other causes for a tooth to form an abscess are trauma to a tooth from either a blow to a tooth or from grinding or clenching, or dental treatment such as a crown or a filling that gets too close to the pulp chamber.

Other abscessed tooth symptoms and signs


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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.