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Dental Abscess

An abscess is a sac of fluid (pus). A dental abscess forms when a tooth or the tissue around it becomes infected with bacteria. The bacteria can enter through a cavity or a crack in a tooth. It can also infect the gum tissue or bone around a tooth. An untreated abscess can cause the loss of the tooth. It can even spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.

Cross section of two teeth showing cavity, infection, and dental abscess.

Symptoms of a dental abscess 

Symptoms include:

  • Toothache, often severe

  • Tooth pain with hot, cold, or pressure

  • Pain in the gums, cheek, or jaw

  • Bad breath or bitter taste in the mouth

  • Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth

  • Fever

  • Swollen or enlarged neck glands

Diagnosing a dental abscess

The dentist will ask about your symptoms and check your teeth and gums. You will be told if you need any tests, such as dental X-rays.

Treating a dental abscess

Treatments for a dental abscess may include:

  • Antibiotic medicines. These treat the underlying infection.

  • Pain relievers. These help you feel more comfortable. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine for you. Or you may use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • Warm saltwater rinses. These can soothe mild pain and help clear away pus.

  • Root canal surgery.  This may be done if needed to save the tooth. With a root canal, the infected part of the tooth is removed. A special substance is then used to fill the empty space in the tooth.

  • Draining the abscess. This may be done if needed. Cuts (incisions) are made to let the infected material drain from the tooth.

  • Removing the tooth. This is done in cases of severe infection that can’t be treated another way.

You may need to be admitted to a hospital if the infection is severe, has spread, or doesn’t respond to treatment.

When to get medical advice

Call your dentist right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F  ( 38°C) or higher

  • More pain, redness, drainage, or swelling in the treated area

  • Face or jawbone swelling

  • Pain that can't be controlled with medicines

Preventing dental abscess

To prevent another abscess in the future, keep your teeth clean and healthy. Brush twice a day and floss at least once daily. See your dentist for regular exams and tooth cleanings. And stay away from sugary foods and drinks that can lead to tooth decay.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.