Learn to Recognize These Signs of a Tooth Abscess So You Can Get Treatment As Soon As Possible

May 19, 2021

oral health, oral surgery

You never want to put off seeing the dentist. After all, an issue with your oral health can quickly worsen over time, requiring even more extensive (or expensive) treatment. One of the many reasons not to skip your regular dental cleanings is to give your dentist a chance to check your mouth for issues such as a dental abscess.

But mouth problems will not always conveniently develop right before your dental checkup. You should familiarize yourself with signs that there is something wrong with your mouth in case you notice an issue between checkups.

A tooth abscess is just one of these potential issues you should learn to recognize. If you don’t treat them promptly, an abscess can quickly worsen and affect other aspects of your health. Most importantly, a dental abscess will not disappear without treatment and can spread to other areas of your body.

What Is a Dental Abscess?

Before you can learn to recognize the symptoms of a dental abscess, it helps to understand exactly what this condition is. A dental abscess is when pus forms inside your teeth, the bones that hold your teeth, or your gums.

You can have a periapical or periodontal abscess, depending on whether it is by the end of your tooth or in your gum. The latter is when the abscess is in the gum but close to the root of your tooth. You may also develop a gingival abscess, which refers to an abscess in your gums.

While some cases of dental abscess can be very painful, that is not always the situation. Because of that, you need to be aware of the other symptoms as well.

The Symptoms of a Dental Abscess

Remember that a dental abscess can affect your teeth or your gum. The following are some of the signs and symptoms that you might experience when you have this issue:

  • Gums that are shiny, swollen, and red
  • Discolored, loose, or tender tooth
  • Facial swelling and redness
  • Throbbing pain by the affected tooth – This pain may get worse gradually or come on suddenly
  • Pain that worsens if you lie down, potentially to the point of disturbing your sleep
  • Pain that extends to your neck, jaw, and ear
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes under the jaw or in the neck
  • Sensitivity to cold or hot foods and drinks
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth or bad breath

Signs of a Dental Abscess That Is Spreading

As mentioned, if your dental abscess is not treated, it can spread to other areas of your body.

This can lead to:

  • Fever
  • Feelings of general unwellness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty opening your mouth

Why Is a Dental Abscess Dangerous?

A dental abscess can become very serious if left untreated. This comes from the fact that it will not go away unless you treat it.

If your dental abscess ruptures, you may notice a decrease in pain. This does not mean that your mouth is fine. You need the abscess to drain. Otherwise, it can spread an infection to your jaw, neck, and head. It can even lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening complication of an infection.

If you notice any of the following signs, you have a serious infection and need to get treatment right away.

  • High fever
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Facial swelling

If you cannot reach your dentist, go to the emergency room.

Visit Your Dentist Right Away

If you notice any of the above symptoms and think you may have a dental abscess, visit your dentist as soon as you can. The situation may not require contacting them during emergency hours, but you should call to schedule an appointment the following day.

If you are showing signs of the abscess spreading to your body, you should get emergency medical care. It is fine to call your dentist’s emergency line at this point. They may see you right away, suggest you visit the emergency room, or schedule an appointment for the next day, depending on your symptoms.

Definitely visit the emergency room if you have difficulty breathing or swallowing.

How to Relieve Dental Abscess Pain

As you look at the above symptoms, you will notice that pain is a common symptom of a dental abscess. As mentioned, it may be focused on the tooth or part of the gum that is affected. Or the pain may spread to your jaw, ear, and neck. It may also be worse when you lie down or come in the form of sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks.

Luckily, you can take some basic measures to control the pain somewhat while waiting for your appointment with Dr. Sharma.


Over-the-counter painkillers are a great choice. You should ideally choose ibuprofen, as that is what most dentists suggest for a dental abscess. If you don’t have access to ibuprofen or are allergic to it, take paracetamol instead. Just remember never to give children under 16 years old aspirin.

Avoid Hot and Cold Food and Drinks

If you experience discomfort or pain when eating cold or hot foods and drinks, try avoiding those items.

Eat Carefully

You should not avoid eating just because of the pain from your abscess. Instead, try to stick to soft foods that are cool or room temperature. Eat them on the side of your mouth opposite the abscess.

Brush Softly

When brushing your teeth, opt for a soft toothbrush, especially by the abscess. You can also skip flossing that area of your mouth. However, you should still floss the rest of your mouth as long as it is not too painful.

What Causes a Dental Abscess?

A dental (periapical) abscess occurs if bacteria get into your dental pulp, which is the innermost area of your tooth and where the connective tissue, nerves, and blood vessels are. A periodontal abscess is usually due to gum disease, but it can also happen from an injury. A gingival abscess is most commonly caused by something foreign getting embedded into the gums. Common examples include toothbrush bristles or popcorn.

Several risk factors can increase your chances of having a dental abscess form, including:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Eating too much starchy or sugary food and drinks
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Previous surgery or injuries to your gums or mouth

How to Prevent a Dental Abscess

The following steps will help reduce your risk of a dental abscess:

  • Flossing at least daily
  • Brushing at least twice daily while using a toothpaste with fluoride
  • Not rinsing your mouth right after brushing
  • Replacing your toothbrush every three to four months
  • Reducing starchy and sugary food and drinks
  • Having regular dental checkups and cleanings

How Will Your Dentist Treat the Dental Abscess?

Your exact treatment will vary based on the severity of the dental abscess. The treatment always involves removing the infection source and draining the pus. In the case of an abscess from foreign objects, treatment will involve removing that object.

That treatment may include a root canal, extracting the affected tooth, and/or making a small incision to drain the abscess. Your dentist will always explain your treatment options to you and help you choose which one makes the most sense for you.

In the case of an infection that spreads, your dentist may also prescribe you antibiotics. Remember to always take your full course of antibiotics.

With treatment, your dental abscess should start to heal within just a few days.


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