Everything You Need to Know About Dental Abscess

A dental abscess commonly occurs due to an injury, untreated tooth decay, or failed dental work. A dental abscess is a collection of pus that forms beneath the root of the tooth provoked by infection.

It’s always accompanied by acute pain in the teeth and gums which radiates to the ear or neck. A dental abscess is an emergency since this problem can’t be treated at home and can progress and lead to phlegmon.

Symptoms of dental abscess

The hallmark of a dental abscess is pulsating pain around the tooth that occurs suddenly and gets worse over time. A dental abscess might take years to develop and even be asymptomatic for a long period. However, the main symptoms of a dental abscess include:

  • Painful chewing or biting
  • Pulsating pain in the teeth and gums
  • Pain that spreads to the neck, ear, or jaw
  • Swelling of the upper or lower jaw
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or under the jaw
  • Redness or swelling of the face
  • Severe, lingering tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Headache
  • Bitter or bad taste in the mouth
  • A draining sore on the gum
  • Pain in the bone around your affected tooth
  • Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)

Types of dental abscess

There are three types of dental abscesses:

  • Periapical abscess. This type of abscess is also called a tooth abscess. It’s the formation of a pocket of pus due to bacterial infection at the tip of a tooth root.
  • Periodontal abscess. The periodontal abscess is also known as a gum abscess. It occurs in a periodontal pocket between the teeth and gums and can spread to the tooth and periodontal ligament if left untreated. Periodontal abscess includes two subtypes:
    • Gingival abscess. A gingival abscess is a type of abscess that hasn’t damaged the tooth or periodontal ligament.
    • Pericoronal abscess. This is a type of abscess that damages the gums and other soft tissue around the crown of a tooth.
  • Combined periodontal-endodontic abscess. This type of abscess occurs when a periapical abscess and periodontal abscess combine.

Treatment options for dental abscess

Depending on the type and stage of dental abscess your dentist will choose the best treatment for you. If you wonder if a dental abscess can go away on its own the answer is no. It’s impossible to reverse it once it has occurred. What are the treatments available?

Tooth extraction and dental implants

Tooth extraction is required if the dental abscess has already caused significant damage. After tooth extraction, you need a dental implant procedure. These procedures have three benefits:

  • There is no risk of tooth fracture
  • 100% of infection is removed
  • Low risk for systemic infection

Pain relief medication

Doctors typically prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) since they are the most effective medications to ease dental pain, including pain provoked by a dental abscess. Oftentimes, doctors recommend the following painkillers:

  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Aspirin (Motrin)

These medications are aimed at short-term relief before the main dental abscess treatment.


Antibiotics are used as the first line of treatment for a dental abscess. They help get rid of the infection and pain caused by an abscess. Doctors usually prescribe these antibiotics to fight off abscess infections:

  • Penicillin
  • Metronidazole (Flagyl)
  • Macrolides (clarithromycin/Biaxin, azithromycin/Zithromax, fidaxomicin/Dificid, and erythromycin)
  • Clindamycin

An antibiotic treatment course typically lasts 7-10 days and can offer temporary relief since they can’t treat abscess completely.

Root canal

A root canal is aimed at removing the infection that provoked the tooth abscess. Dentists usually try treating tooth abscesses by first trying to save the existing tooth structure with a root canal procedure.

A dental abscess can happen from an injury, untreated tooth decay, or failed dental work. If you have a dental abscess you’ll feel pain in your teeth, gums, and jaw. The pain may even radiate to other areas of your face.

A dentist can help treat your dental abscess with medications or extraction.

If you suspect you have a tooth abscess or have any kind of tooth pain, contact your dentist today.

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