A tooth abscess with pain
Untreated abscesses may form a hollow tunnel called a fistula that extends from the abscess through the bone or skin, allowing the pus to drain.

A tooth abscess also called a dental abscess, does not resolve on its own like other infections. It requires the services of a dentist.

If left untreated, an abscess can cause the infection to spread, resulting in further problems, including possible life-threatening consequences.

  • Untreated abscesses may form a hollow tunnel called a fistula that extends from the abscess through the bone or skin, allowing the pus to drain.
  • A fistula is visible within the mouth and resembles a pus-filled pimple.
  • Even if the pus from a fistula drains, alleviating pressure, the infection must be treated because it will not go away on its own.

What is a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess is a tiny pocket of pus that develops because of a bacterial infection on or around a tooth in the gums. Abscesses can form swiftly, even within a few days in some situations.

3 main types of tooth abscess

  1. Periapical abscess: An infection that occurs within the tooth that begins at the tooth's root and extends through the bone. A periapical abscess develops because of an untreated dental cavity, accident, or previous dental treatment.
  2. Periodontal abscess: An infection that occurs deep in the gum pockets between the tooth and the gum. This form of abscess develops because of an existing infection in the gums or from insufficient cleaning of the region between the teeth and gums.
  3. Gingival abscess: An infection that is confined to the gums and does not affect the tooth and ligaments. A gingival abscess is caused by bacterial infection because of dental decay, harsh brushing, fractured teeth, food lodged in the gum line, or gum bleeding. It can also be caused by traumatic damage or severe orthodontic stress on the teeth.

15 symptoms of tooth abscess

The 15 symptoms of a tooth abscess include:

  1. Pain from an abscess is experienced by most individuals, but it may not be present for months or even years
  2. Throbbing pain in the teeth and gums
  3. An abscess may be large, inflamed, and filled with pus
  4. Pressure from the pus
  5. Discomfort from the illness
  6. Fever
  7. Swelling of neck glands
  8. Redness and swelling of gums
  9. Tooth sensitivity to heat or cold
  10. Unpleasant taste
  11. Smelly breath
  12. Pain radiating to the jaw, neck, and ear
  13. Difficulty swallowing
  14. Difficulty breathing
  15. Loosening of teeth

Do not let an abscess go untreated. A person should seek immediate medical attention if they have one or more of these symptoms.

Will tooth abscess spread to surrounding areas?

An abscess will naturally try to expand into the pulp of the tooth or the soft tissue underneath that includes nerve endings and connective tissues before being treated. If enough of the infection reaches the pulp of the tooth, it will die, necessitating a root canal or the removal of the pulp.

An abscessed tooth infection can extend beyond the pulp, affecting the jaw, adjacent teeth, or other nearby tissues. The goal of treating the tooth abscess is merely to keep the infection from spreading and creating other, more serious problems.


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What are the treatment options for tooth abscess?

If the infection is not adequately treated, it will progress, and the germs will travel to other regions of the body.

Therapy differs based on the severity of the abscess; however, the general treatment plans remain the same, including:

  1. Pain medication: The patient may take over-the-counter pain medication for pain before getting any medical treatment by the doctor.
  2. Incision and drainage of the abscess:
    • To drain the pus, the dentist makes a tiny incision (cut) in the abscess.
    • To maintain the region accessible for drainage, a tiny rubber drain is sometimes inserted.
  3. Tooth extraction: When a tooth cannot be saved, the dentist may have to remove or extract it, enabling the pus to leak from the socket.
  4. Root canal: This method helps remove the infection and preserve the tooth.
    • This popular technique removes the affected inner pulp of the tooth and fills the area with substance to avoid reinfection.
    • The inner pulp is necessary while the tooth is growing, but once it matures, the tooth may survive without it.
    • The tooth should be restored to normal after surgery. However, it may require a crown to preserve the root canal.
    • If a person takes excellent care of their repaired tooth, it can last a lifetime.
  5. Antibiotics: If the infection is restricted to the abscessed region, antibiotics may not be necessary although the dentist may offer them to help with the dental treatment. 
    • Although this drug may fight lingering germs, it will not eliminate the source of the illness, which is the impacted tooth.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/5/2022
Cleveland Clinic. Abscessed tooth. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10943-abscessed-tooth Hurst Pediatric Dentistry. What Is A Tooth Abscess?