All About Dental Abscesses 

Dental abscess is labeled by one dentistry as a serious condition, one that “affects approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. every year, resulting in a large portion of the estimated 850,000 dental emergency room visits annually.” If dealt with promptly, it can be resolved without far-reaching consequences. However, if it is not addressed promptly, an abscessed tooth may lead to dangerous and even life-threatening conditions.  

Today, we will cover the nature of a tooth abscess, the dangers, how to identify it, common causes, and ultimately how an abscessed tooth can be cured.  

What is a dental abscess? 

When you have an abscessed tooth, it means you have a pocket of pus that has formed near your tooth because of bacterial infection. It’s important to note that there are three different kinds of abscesses; the type will determine where the abscess pops up.  

The first kind, known as periapical abscesses, are found at the tip of the root, as shown above. The second kind are referred to as gingival abscesses. These are the same as periapical, but show up on your gums instead of at the root of a tooth. The final type is known as periodontal abscesses. These emerge in your gums beside the root of an infected tooth. Anyone can get an abscess of any variety. Once an abscess has set in, it will not go away on its own.

 What are the dangers of dental abscesses? 

Nobody wants to get a tooth abscess. They’re painful, and they stubbornly refuse to resolve without intervention. Turns out, this dislike is well-founded—not only are abscesses uncomfortable, they are dangerous to your overall health.  

Remember—an abscess is just a pocket of pus that has formed at the root of your tooth or in your gums due to infection. If that pus does not drain, you are at risk for that infection spreading across the rest of your jaw, neck, and head. The Mayo Clinic details further: “If the tooth is located near the maxillary sinus — two large spaces under your eyes and behind your cheeks — you can also develop an opening between the tooth abscess and the sinus. This can cause an infection in the sinus cavity.” If you have a weak immune system, your risk only goes up.  

Furthermore, a dental abscess creates the possibility of contracting sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition.  Dentist Roy Jennings explains, “Sepsis is a deadly response of our body to fight infection. It occurs when a bacterial infection runs through the blood, and our body fights it with body-wide inflammation. If a tooth abscess is left untreated, the bacteria can trigger a chain reaction from tissue damage to organ failure leading to septic shock or sepsis.”  

This is just one reason why it is crucial not to let an abscess go untreated. If you even suspect you may have a tooth abscess, get in contact with your dentist as soon as possible. It is vital that the infection is not allowed to spread to the rest of the body.  

Keep in mind also that if your abscess ruptures, you will likely feel almost immediate relief, but this doesn’t mean the problem is solved. You will still need to seek the help of a dentist to resolve it.

How do I know if I have a dental abscess? 

In order to seek treatment for an abscessed tooth, you need to be able to identify when you have an abscess. Common symptoms include: 


    • Gum redness 

    • Fever 

    • Swollen lymph nodes 


    • Heightened sensitivity to temperature 

    • Bad taste in mouth 

If you have an abscessed tooth, you could also find that your face is swelling up and you are having difficulty breathing. If this is the case, get to the emergency room as quickly as possible. The infection may have spread, and as mentioned above, you may be at risk of going into septic shock.

What causes them? 

The causes differ based on the type of abscess. If it is periapical, it is likely the result of a cavity. (Healthline) Bacteria enters the pulp through the hole a cavity creates, allowing infection to set in. If the abscess is gingival, Healthline explains that this is likely due to “[a] foreign body, such as a popcorn hull or toothbrush bristle… embedded in your gums.” (Healthline) If it is periodontal, it was probably caused by gum disease

How can the abscess be removed? 

Dental abscesses can be dealt with in a few different ways, and your dentist will discuss your options with you. The options include:  


    • Drainage. It might sound scary, but it gets the job done: your dentist would make a small incision, allowing the pus to drain away, and then sanitize the area with saline solution.

    • Oral antibiotics. These do not cure the abscess by themselves, but your dentist might call for them if your immune system is particularly weak, or if the infection has spread beyond your mouth.  

    • Root canal. A root canal is the procedure in which your dentist removes the infected pulp and inserts a substitute material before sealing off the tooth. Though root canals get a poor reputation for being painful, they are not as bad as often rumored, and it might be what it takes to clear things up.  

    • Tooth removal. Obviously, this will be a last resort, but sometimes, other options will fail, and it will be necessary to extract the infected tooth.  

To avoid abscesses occurring in the first place, make sure you stick solidly to your oral hygiene routine! Brushing twice a day for two minutes each time and flossing at least once (preferably after eating) will go a long way in preventing any cavities that could lead to dangerous infection. When you floss, be sure to be thorough—those tough spots may be hard to reach, but that doesn’t mean bacteria can’t get to them! Limiting your intake of sugary and acidic snacks and drinks will also guard against abscesses.  

Remember, at first suspicion of an abscessed tooth, reach out for help. Choosing not to deal with an abscessed tooth with risks worsened infection and even sepsis. They must be dealt with as quickly as possible to avoid further complications.  

If you have questions or suspect you may have an infection in your teeth or gums, reach out to us today. We will get you set up with an appointment as soon as possible.  

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Our team has over 30 years of combined experience in the field of dentistry and a passion for educating our patients on the importance of good dental hygiene. To learn more about them, please visit our team page 

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