Tooth Abscess: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

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A tooth abscess or dental abscess is a localized bacterial infection that causes a collection of pus in the mouth or gums.

This condition can cause discomfort and swelling in the oral cavity. It requires prompt attention from a dental professional to prevent and pre-empt serious complications.

Tooth abscess or Mouth abscess

This report will cover the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for a tooth abscess along with tips to prevent it.

Types of Dental Abscesses

There are three main kinds of tooth abscess that can occur in different regions of your mouth:

  1. Gingival abscess – develops around the gums near the base of the tooth. It’s due to the impact of a foreign object.
  2. Periodontal abscess – develops inside the gum tissue. It can affect the gums and bone surrounding the tooth.
  3. Periapical abscess – develops deeper in the root of the tooth. This type of mouth abscess is caused by bacteria entering the dental pulp (innermost layer of the tooth) through a cavity, crack, or chip.

What Causes a Tooth Abscess?

Bacterial build-up from neglected teeth and poor oral hygiene are the primary causes for a dental abscess.

Other risk factors include

  • injuries,
  • dental damage,
  • deep tooth cracks,
  • underlying medical conditions, and
  • some types of medication.

People with a weakened immune system, or those on treatment for other serious health conditions may be at risk of developing mouth abscesses.

Eating sugary and processed foods without cleaning or rinsing the mouth regularly can lead to build-up of dental plaque and calculus. Without proper brushing, cleaning, and flossing, tooth decay sets in. It can later result in a dental abscess.

5 Stages of a Tooth Abscess

Dental abscess or tooth abscess

A tooth abscess is one of the later stages of tooth decay. There are five stages of tooth abscess, including:

Stage 1: Enamel Decay

The first stage is damage to the outer layer of a tooth called the ‘enamel’.

Enamel decay is often caused by the build-up of dental plaque on your teeth.

Some people may not experience any symptoms. Others develop tooth sensitivity or decalcified white spots that are more prone to enamel breakdown.

Stage 2: Dentin Decay

If you don’t promptly address the early stage enamel decay, it will progress to the next deeper layer inside your tooth known as ‘dentin’.

By this point, many people will experience increased tooth sensitivity. In other cases, you may even notice a small hole on the surface of your tooth.

Stage 3: Pulp Decay

The deepest soft inner layer of your tooth is called the ‘pulp’. If bacteria reach this layer, they can attack the tooth’s nerve. This often causes severe tooth pain.

Eventually, if left untreated, the tooth’s nerve roots will die and a tooth abscess begins to form.

Stage 4: Abscess Formation

Once bacteria makes their way into your tooth pulp, the infection will being to spread deeper into your gums or jawbone.

At this point, your gums may begin to swell. You’ll see a small bump on your gums. This may be accompanied by a throbbing pain in your teeth and gums. The toothache can even radiate to surrounding regions.

Stage 5: Serious Complications

If you still do not seek medical attention for your tooth abscess, then it could lead to even more serious symptoms and complications.

The most common are

  • tooth loss,
  • general sepsis,
  • infection of paranasal sinusse,
  • brain abscess, and
  • bone infection (called ‘osteomyelitis’).

Some of these are quite serious conditions and may require complex and costly treatments. In rare cases, they might become life-threatening!

Signs and Symptoms of a Tooth Abscess

tooth abscess

A dental abscess is a painful condition that occurs when bacteria infects

  • the pulp of a tooth,
  • the gum tissue, or
  • bone surrounding a tooth.

The signs and symptoms of a dental abscess can vary depending on the location and severity of the infection.

Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

  • Severe toothache that can be throbbing, sharp or continuous
  • Swelling in the gums or face
  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet substances
  • Pain when chewing or biting down
  • Redness and inflammation in the affected area
  • Swollen, shiny, and painful gums
  • Bad breath that persists even after brushing
  • Fever
  • Painful, swollen lymph nodes in the neck or jaw
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Foul taste and smell in the mouth if the abscess ruptures
  • Loose teeth or multiple teeth near the infected site

Complications of an Untreated Tooth Abscess

Mouth abscesses can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

Here are some of the potential risks and how they can endanger your health:

Tooth loss:

If your tooth becomes severely infected or weakened, it may have to be extracted (removed).

A root canal treatment may not be able to salvage the tooth in such advanced cases. You will need a dental implant or bridge to replace the missing tooth.

Bone infection:

An untreated dental abscess can cause an infection in the surrounding bone. This condition is called osteomyelitis and may require prolonged treatment to eradicate the infection.

Sinus infections:

Chronic or painful sinus infections and oral soft tissue infections can develop if the abscess spreads to nearby sinuses.


An untreated dental abscess can lead to septicemia, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the bloodstream becomes infected.

Bacteria from within and around the tooth gain entry into the circulation. This can lead to infection in far flung places, which could lead to a potentially deadly situation.

Brain abscess:

In rare cases, the infection from your mouth and teeth can travel to the brain.

There it gets established within brain tissue, resulting in another abscess. Brain abscesses are always dangerous and require emergency treatment – maybe even complex surgery.

If you experience any signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess, seek prompt dental care. Your dentist will diagnose and treat the abscess, reducing the risk of complications.

Treating a Tooth Abscess

If you have a tooth abscess, the choice of treatment depends on how severe the infection is and where the abscess is located.

Treatment options may include:

Antibiotics: Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics if the infection is mild to help clear the infection.

Drainage: If the abscess has already formed a pocket of pus, then your dentist may need to drain the abscess. This removes the collected pus, relieves the pressure and gets rid of all the infected material.

Root canal: If the infection has spread deep into the pulp of the tooth, a root canal treatment may be necessary. This will remove the infected tissue and aims to save the tooth.

Extraction: In severe cases where the tooth cannot be saved, your dentist may need to pull out the tooth (dental extraction) in order to keep the infection from spreading.

If your abscess is caused by gum disease, your dentist may recommend deep cleaning procedures. These are minor procedures such as scaling and root planing.

It effectively involves removing tartar and plaque from the teeth, and smoothing the surface of dental roots to promote healing.

Your dentist may prescribe a course of antibiotics to help fight the infection. This also serves to prevent infections from spreading to other parts of the body.

Your doctor may also suggest pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help manage pain and discomfort.

If the abscess has ruptured, your dentist will clean the area thoroughly. Antibiotics will help prevent further infection.

Managing Tooth Pain

While you wait for treatment of your tooth abscess, you can manage the pain with over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen.

However, be sure to use these medications sparingly and safely to avoid side effects. Also, don’t use them for an extended period of time, as prolonged use can damage other organs.

You can also take these medications along with any antibiotics your dentist prescribes.

Preventing Tooth Abscess

To prevent a tooth abscess, it is essential to maintain good oral hygiene habits.

This includes

  • brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste,
  • flossing daily to remove plaque and food particles,
  • eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar, and
  • visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.

It is also important to avoid the kind of behavior that increases your risk of developing a tooth abscess.

This includes things such as

  • eating sugary and acidic foods and drinks,
  • using tobacco
  • grinding your teeth, and
  • delaying treatment for dental problems.

By taking good care of your teeth and seeking help from a dentist when necessary, you can prevent a tooth abscess and maintain a healthy smile.

Home Remedies for Dental Abscesses

While dental abscesses require professional dental treatment, there are some home remedies that can help manage pain and discomfort before your dental appointment.

Saltwater rinses – Mix a teaspoon of salt with warm water and swish the solution in your mouth for at least 30 seconds before spitting it out.

Cold compress – Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time to help reduce swelling and numb the pain.

Over-the-counter pain relievers – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Garlic – Garlic has natural antibacterial properties that can help fight infection. Crush a garlic clove and apply it directly to the affected area, or add it to your food.

Clove oil – Clove oil has natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help numb pain and reduce inflammation. Apply a small amount to a cotton ball and place it on the affected area.

In Conclusion

A dental tooth abscess is a common dental condition that’s the result of bacterial infection of a tooth or gum. It can cause severe pain and discomfort.

Dental abscesses are caused by bacterial infections and if left untreated, can lead to serious complications.

If you suspect that you have a dental abscess, it’s essential to seek prompt dental care from a professional.

Treatment options may include

  • antibiotics,
  • pain relievers,
  • root canal therapy, or
  • tooth extraction

Your best option will depend on the severity of the abscess and the extent of damage to the tooth or gum tissue.

To prevent dental abscesses,

  • maintain good oral hygiene practices,
  • eat a healthy diet, and
  • schedule regular dental check-ups and cleanings.

By taking these steps, you can reduce your risk of developing dental abscesses and keep your teeth and gums healthy.

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