What is an abscessed tooth?
When you have tooth decay or gum disease, you can get infection deep within the tooth or gum. This infection is an abscessed tooth and can be very painful. If it is not treated, the infection can spread and you can lose your tooth or have other health problems.
What causes an abscessed tooth?
Damage to the tooth, an untreated cavity, or gum disease can cause an abscessed tooth.
If a cavity is not treated, the inside of the tooth (called the pulp) can become infected. Bacteria can spread from the tooth to the tissue around it, creating an abscess.
Gum disease causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets. If food builds up in one of these pockets, bacteria can grow, and an abscess can form. Over time an abscess can cause the bone around the tooth to dissolve.
What are the symptoms?
You may have:
Over time as the infection spreads, the bone in your jaw may begin to dissolve. When this happens, you may feel less pain, but the infection will still be there. If you lose too much bone, your tooth will become loose and may have to be removed.
If you have a severe toothache, have swelling of the gums or face, or notice drainage of pus, call your dentist right away. You may have an abscessed tooth. If it is not treated, the infection could spread and become dangerous.
How is it treated?
If you have an abscessed tooth, your dentist may give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria that is causing the infection. Antibiotics may help for a while. But to get rid of the abscess, your dentist will need to get rid of the source of infection. This is done by making a hole in the tooth or gum to drain the infection. Usually this will relieve your pain.
If the inside of your tooth is infected, you will need a root canal. Or you will need to have the tooth removed. A root canal tries to save your tooth by taking out the infected pulp. If you don't want a root canal or if you have one done and it doesn't work, the dentist may have to remove your tooth. You and your doctor can decide what is best.
You may be able to reduce pain and swelling from an abscessed tooth by putting an ice pack wrapped in a towel against your cheek. You can also try over-the-counter pain medicine, including ASA, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin). But you still need to see your dentist for treatment.
How can you prevent an abscessed tooth?
You can prevent an abscessed tooth by preventing bacterial infections in your mouth. The best way to do that is to take good care of your teeth and gums:
Some people have a very dry mouth. This can cause deep dental cavities to form quickly, which can infect the pulp of a tooth and lead to an abscess. You may be able to prevent these problems by taking frequent sips of water, chewing gum, or sucking on sugarless candy. If you have severe dry mouth symptoms, you may need to take medicine to treat the problem.
Many medicines can cause a dry mouth, including some medicines used to treat depression and high blood pressure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about an abscessed tooth:
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Symptoms of an abscessed tooth include:
As the infection spreads, you may feel less pain. This is because the bone in your jaw has begun to dissolve and the nerve to the tooth may be dying. If too much bone dissolves, your tooth will become loose and may have to be removed.
Call your dentist immediately if you have a severe toothache that has not improved after an hour or two of home treatment. You may have an abscessed tooth, and the infection may be spreading.
Call your dentist to make an appointment as soon as possible if you have:
Your dentist will examine your mouth to look for swelling and other signs of infection that suggest an abscessed tooth. He or she may tap on the tooth, apply heat or cold to the tooth, or probe the gums around the tooth. He or she may also ask questions about your pain, how long you have had it, and where it is located.
Your dentist may also take dental X-rays.
You may need to be treated with antibiotics before having a root canal if you:
If a root canal cannot be done or is unsuccessful, removal of the tooth (extraction) may be needed.
You should begin treatment for an abscessed tooth as soon as possible to avoid a more serious infection, such as cellulitis. Bacteria from an untreated abscess can spread to the bloodstream, infect other parts of the body, and become life-threatening. This risk increases if you have diabetes, heart valve disease or an artificial valve, or if you take steroids for other conditions, such as asthma or Crohn's disease.
You may be able to reduce pain and swelling in your face and jaw from an abscessed tooth by using an ice pack on the outside of your cheek. (Do not use heat.) You can also try a non-prescription medicine to help relieve your face or jaw pain, such as:
Be sure to read the label carefully and follow all non-prescription medicine precautions.
If you are pregnant, do not take any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal supplements, or home remedies without checking with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Call your dentist immediately if you have a severe toothache that has not improved after an hour or two of home treatment. If you have an abscessed tooth, the infection may be spreading.
You can prevent an abscessed tooth by preventing bacterial infections in your mouth. The best way to prevent bacterial infections is to take good care of your teeth and gums:
After your abscessed tooth has been treated, you can help prevent further tooth problems:
For more information on how to brush and floss properly, see:
For more information on general care of your teeth, see the topic Basic Dental Care.
|(U.S) National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)|
|National Institutes of Health|
|Bethesda, MD 20892-2190|
The (U.S) National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is a governmental agency that provides information about oral, dental, and craniofacial health. By conducting and supporting research, the NIDCR aims to promote health, prevent diseases and conditions, and develop new diagnostics and therapeutics.
|Academy of General Dentistry|
|211 East Chicago Avenue|
|Chicago, Illinois 60611-1999|
The Academy of General Dentistry is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping dentists stay up to date in the dental profession through continuing education. The organization also provides consumers with information on oral health care.
|American Dental Association|
|211 East Chicago Avenue|
|Chicago, IL 60611-2678|
The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional membership organization of practicing dentists, provides information about oral health care for children and adults. The ADA can also help you find a dentist in your area.
|Canadian Dental Association|
|1815 Alta Vista Drive|
|Ottawa, ON K1G 3Y6|
The Canadian Dental Association, the professional membership organization of dentists, provides information regarding oral health care for children and adults.
|Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA)|
|96 Centrepointe Drive|
|Ottawa, ON K2G 6B1|
The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) is a professional association of dental hygienists in Canada and helps represents them in the development of policies and standards related to dental hygiene practice, education, research, and regulation. The CDHA Web site offers an Oral Care Centre with a variety of information about dental hygiene for the general public.
Other Works Consulted
- Flynn TR (2008). Principles of management and prevention of odontogenic infections. In JR Hupp et al., eds.., Contemporary Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 5th ed., pp. 291–315. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
- MacLeod DK, Kern DE (2007). Common problems of the teeth and oral cavity. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine. 7th ed., pp. 1864–1878. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry|
|Last Revised||April 7, 2011|
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.