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Tooth abscesses don't go away on their own. Moreover, they can sometimes spread to other parts of the body and create some serious complications. Learn what to do in case of an abscessed tooth

Tooth abscess

author icon By Dr. George Ghidrai

A tooth abscess is a localized collection of pus associated with a tooth. It can form inside the teeth, in the gums, or in the bone that holds the teeth in place; it has the origin in a bacterial infection.

abscessed tooth

A tooth abscess can be caused by tooth decay, broken teeth or extensive periodontal disease (or combinations of these factors). A failed root canal treatment or a broken dental work (filling, crown etc) may also create a dental abscess.

It is important that patients get professional help as soon as possible because abscesses don't go away on their own. Moreover, they can sometimes spread to other parts of the body and create some serious complications.

Types of tooth abscesses

The most common type of dental abscess is a periapical abscess (also known as tooth-related abscess), and the second most common is a periodontal abscess (or gum abscess). The main difference between the two is the origin of the infection.

  1. Gum abscess or periodontal abscess

    The gum abscess is caused by an infection in the space between the tooth and gum. The infection may occur after food gets trapped between the gum and tooth.

    abscess tooth

    gum abscess

    People with poor oral hygiene or gum disease have a higher risk of developing such an abscess because a large number of bacteria can build up under the gum and in the bone.

    Most times, the gum abscess forms on the side of the tooth and closer to the gingival margin.

    abscess tooth types

  2. Periapical abscess

    The periapical abscess is caused by an infection inside the tooth. Bacteria from inside a tooth decay can penetrate the enamel and dentin to reach the dental pulp (or the tooth's nerve).

    If the pulp infection is not properly treated, it can spread through the root canal from the pulp to the periapical tissue, which is located around the apex of the tooth's root.

    periapical abscess

    The periapical abscess shows up at the tip of the tooth's root and spreads to the surrounding bone.

Signs and symptoms

Tooth abscesses can form very quickly. Most abscesses are painful but this is not always the case. In some cases, abscesses may be painless (or cause little pain) but still have a swelling present on the gum. It is important to get anything that shows like this checked by a dental professional to avoid any complications.

Symptoms of an abscess in your tooth or gum may include:


Patients with tooth abscesses should see a dentist as soon as possible. Dental abscesses never go away on their own. Moreover, they can spread to other parts of the body and create serious complications or become chronic, where the infection can last for months or even years.

Avoid visiting a General Practitioner, as there is little they can do to help (maybe prescribe you some painkillers).

What can you do to relieve your symptoms ?

While you're waiting to see a dentist, some actions may help in relieving your symptoms:

These measures can help relieve your symptoms temporarily, but you shouldn't use them to delay getting help from a dentist.

What your dentist will do

The first goal of the professional treatment is relieving the symptoms and reducing the risk of further spread of the infection. For that, the area is thoroughly cleaned and the trapped pus must be allowed to escape.

If the infection started inside a tooth, the dentist will make a small hole in the tooth. This allows the abscess to drain. The tooth will then need root canal treatment, followed by a filling or a crown.

When the abscess is larger, the drainage through the tooth is not sufficient. In this case, the dentist makes a small cut (incision) in the gum to drain the abscess.

The dentist may prescribe antibiotics and/or painkillers. These drugs will help the abscess heal and keep the infection from spreading.

Depending on the location of the abscess and how severe the infection is, there are two possible treatment approaches:

Gum abscess

In most cases, a gum or a periodontal abscess occurs in people with periodontal disease. Draining the abscess helps the immediate problem. However, the periodontal disease needs to be treated to prevent another infection (see gum disease and periodontitis).

Preventing tooth abscesses

You can reduce the risk of developing dental abscesses by keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. Check out our preventive dentistry page to see how to accomplish that.

Another important aspect is to treat your tooth decays as soon as you (or your dentist) notice them before the infection can spread to the pulp. Remember that dental caries can be stopped by treatment.

Last review and update: February 2019

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