Abscessed Tooth: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

An abscessed tooth is not only a dental inconvenience—it’s a painful and potentially serious condition that demands attention. This comprehensive guide delves into the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for an abscessed tooth, shedding light on this common yet often misunderstood dental issue. By gaining a deeper understanding of what an abscessed tooth entails, you’ll be better equipped to prioritize your dental health and respond promptly to any issues that arise.  Let us understand the complexities of an abscessed tooth to ensure you have the knowledge necessary for effective dental care.
Abscessed Tooth

What is an Abscessed Tooth?

An abscessed tooth refers to a dental condition characterized by an infection at the root of a tooth or in the space between the tooth and the gums. This infection leads to the formation of a pocket filled with pus, causing symptoms such as severe toothache, swelling, and potential systemic health complications if left untreated. Understanding the nature of an abscessed tooth is crucial for recognizing symptoms early and seeking appropriate dental care.

What are the Symptoms of an Abscessed Tooth?

The common symptoms of Tooth abscess are given below:

Severe Toothache:

An abscessed tooth often causes intense and continuous pain, which can be sharp or throbbing. The pain may radiate to nearby areas of the face, jaw, or neck, making it difficult to ignore.


An abscess forms, which leads to inflammation in the surrounding tissues. This can result in visible swelling, usually appearing as a lump or bulge on the gum near the affected tooth. The swelling may feel tender to the touch and can sometimes be accompanied by redness.


Due to the infection and inflammation, the tooth becomes more sensitive to stimuli such as hot or cold temperatures. You may feel discomfort or pain when consuming hot drinks, cold foods, or even when breathing in cold air. Pressure on the tooth, such as biting down, can also cause pain.


In more advanced cases of abscessed teeth, especially when the infection spreads, the body may respond with a fever. A fever tells that your immune system is actively fighting the infection. If you experience a fever along with tooth pain and swelling, it’s important to seek medical or dental attention promptly.

Bad Breath or Taste:

The presence of pus, bacteria, and decaying tissue in the abscess can lead to a foul taste in the mouth or cause bad breath (halitosis). This unpleasant taste or odor is often persistent and may not improve with regular brushing or mouthwash.

Difficulty Swallowing or Breathing:

Severe swelling from a dental abscess can sometimes extend into the throat or neck area. This can cause difficulty swallowing, especially solid foods, and in rare cases, may even lead to difficulty breathing. If you experience significant swelling that affects your ability to swallow or breathe, seek immediate medical attention.

What are the Causes of an Abscessed Tooth?

The causes of an abscessed tooth typically stem from bacterial infection. Here are the primary factors leading to this condition:

Dental Decay:

Tooth decay, commonly referred to as cavities, occurs when bacteria produce acids that wear away tooth enamel. Without treatment, decay can advance and infect the inner pulp of your tooth, forming an abscess.

Gum Disease:

Periodontal disease, such as gingivitis or periodontitis, causes inflammation and infection of the gums. Severe gum disease can lead to the formation of pockets between the teeth and gums, enabling bacteria to enter deeper tissues and trigger tooth abscesses.

Trauma or Injury:

Accidents or injuries to the teeth can damage the tooth enamel or expose the inner pulp. This makes a path for bacteria to enter the tooth, causing infection and ultimately resulting in an abscess.

Poor Dental Hygiene:

Inadequate brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits can lead to plaque buildup on teeth. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar, causing gum disease and tooth decay.

Weakened Immune System:

Conditions or medications that lower the immune system can make individuals more susceptible to dental infections. Patients undergoing chemotherapy, those with uncontrolled diabetes, or individuals with autoimmune disorders may be at higher risk.

Previous Dental Procedures:

Occasionally, dental procedures such as root canals or fillings may not fully remove all bacteria or seal the tooth properly. This can lead to persistent infection and abscess formation within the treated tooth.

What are the treatments available for Tooth Abscesses?

The treatment options for an abscessed tooth depend on how severe the infection is and how much damage has occurred to the tooth and nearby tissues. Here are common treatment approaches:
Drainage of the Abscess

Drainage of the Abscess:

In cases where the abscess has formed a visible swelling or pocket of pus, the dentist drains the abscess to relieve pressure and facilitate healing. This is typically done through a small incision in the gum or by performing a root canal procedure.

Root Canal Therapy:

Root canal therapy may be necessary for abscesses that have infected the inner pulp of the tooth. During this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed, and the root canal space is cleaned, disinfected, and sealed to prevent further infection.


Dentists may prescribe antibiotics to control the spread of infection, especially if there are signs of systemic involvement, such as fever or swollen lymph nodes. Antibiotics are typically used as an adjunct to other dental treatments and are not a standalone solution for resolving the abscess.

Pain Management:

Severe toothaches associated with abscesses require pain management. Pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen help with the discomfort until definitive treatment is provided.

Drainage and Cleaning:

In some cases, especially with periodontal abscesses involving gum tissues, drainage and thorough cleaning of the affected area may be sufficient, along with improved oral hygiene practices.


If the tooth is extensively damaged, cannot be saved with root canal therapy, or poses a risk of further infection, extraction may be recommended. Extraction is usually considered as a last resort when other treatment options are not viable.

Follow-up Care:

After initial treatment, follow-up appointments are crucial to monitor healing, ensure the infection is fully resolved, and address any lingering dental issues or complications.

What are the Prevention tips to avoid Tooth Abscess?

Some Prevention Tips are as follows:

Practice Good Oral Hygiene:

Brush teeth at least twice a day, floss daily, and visit the dentist for checkups and cleanings.

Address Dental Issues Promptly:

Treat cavities, gum disease, and dental injuries promptly to prevent infections.

Avoid Tobacco Products:

Smoking and tobacco increase the risk of gum disease and tooth decay.

Maintain a Healthy Diet:

Limit sugary foods and drinks, and consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and calcium.


An abscessed tooth requires prompt treatment to prevent complications. Recognizing symptoms, addressing causes, and seeking timely dental care are essential steps in managing and preventing abscessed teeth. Practice good oral hygiene, address dental issues promptly, and prioritize regular dental visits for optimal oral health and overall well-being.

If you suspect you have an abscessed tooth or experience severe tooth pain, swelling, or other symptoms mentioned, contact our dentist immediately for an evaluation and appropriate treatment. Book an appointment online with Chevy Chase Dental Care, MD, today! New patients can call us at (301) 302-7761, while current patients can reach us at (301) 652-5881.


Can tooth abscess heal on its own?

A tooth abscess doesn’t have the ability to heal by itself. Sometimes, the pain might decrease temporarily if the infection causes the inner tooth pulp to die. This happens because the nerve stops functioning, so you might not feel the pain anymore. However, this doesn’t mean the infection is gone—it continues to spread, damaging the nearby tissues.
Untreated abscesses can lead to severe pain, spreading infection, damage to surrounding teeth and bone, and even systemic health issues.
An abscessed tooth can last for quite a while if left untreated, potentially lasting for several months or even years. There are two primary types of dental abscesses: periapical abscesses, which form under the tooth, and periodontal abscesses, affecting the gum and bone supporting the tooth. Abscessed teeth can be acute or chronic, indicating different stages or severity of the condition, necessitating proper dental care to resolve.
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