An abscess is a sac of 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.
Signs of a dental abscess 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
Swollen or enlarged glands in the neck
An abscess is diagnosed by looking at your teeth and gums. You will be told if any tests, like dental X-rays, are needed.
Treatments for a dental abscess may include the following:
Antibiotic medicines to treat the underlying infection.
Pain relievers to help you feel more comfortable. Your health care provider may prescribe a medicine for you. Or, use over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Warm saltwater rinses to soothe discomfort and help clear away pus.
Root canal surgery 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.
Drainage of the abscess if needed. Incisions are made to allow the infected material to drain from the tooth.
Removal of the tooth in cases of severe infection that can’t be treated another way.
If the infection is severe, has spread, or doesn’t respond to treatment, you may need to be admitted to a hospital.
Call your dentist right away if you have any of the following:
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
Increased pain, redness, drainage, or swelling in the treated area
Swelling of the face or jawbone
Pain that cannot be controlled with medicines
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 tooth cleanings. And avoid sugary foods and drinks that can lead to tooth decay.