What is a Tooth Abscess? (Updated)

August 19, 2019 in Dental Emergencies by mccarl_dental
Tooth Abscess Before Dental Treatment

Tooth Abscess Before Dental Treatment

Tooth abscess is actually a leading reason that people seek emergency dental treatment, and without immediate treatment, this condition can have serious repercussions for both oral and whole body health. Understanding the warning signs of infection and tooth abscess can help you avoid severe, long-term oral health issues. Keep reading to learn a little more about what causes tooth abscess, the common symptoms to look out for, and how your dentist can treat tooth abscess and restore your smile.

What is a Tooth Abscess?

A tooth abscess is a painful and serious dental emergency. An abscess is a pus producing bacterial infection that causes pain and swelling, which needs immediate attention. The infection occurs in or around the root of a tooth that contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. The abscess can also occur between the gum and tooth.

Tooth abscess is most commonly caused by advanced tooth decay or damage, which may originate from a chipped or broken tooth that becomes infected, worn enamel that allows bacteria to enter the tooth, or an untreated dental cavity. Long-term, untreated periodontal (gum) disease can also cause an abscess, especially in the advanced form of this oral health condition called periodontitis. In very serious cases, the infection from the tooth abscess spreads out from the root of the tooth to the bones in the jaw supporting the teeth, which can lead to tooth loss or allow the infection to spread throughout the body.

Signs & Symptoms of Tooth Abscess

You should seek treatment for a tooth abscess as soon as possible to avoid the spread of this infection. Some of the warning signs that indicate you’re dealing with tooth abscess include the following:

  • A severe toothache or tooth pain with dull pressure, aching, and throbbing or sharp pain
  • Fever
  • Pain with or without chewing
  • Redness and swelling of the gums
  • In advanced infections, swelling of the jaw
  • Sensitivity of the teeth to temperature change – hot or cold
  • An open, draining sore in the gums that may also cause a bitter taste in the mouth
  • Bad breath

Treatment Options for a Tooth Abscess

Treatment for tooth abscess will be customized to address your specific needs, but in most cases, we will use some combination of the following treatments:

Drain the abscess

The most effective way to treat an abscessed or infected tooth is to drain off the infection. A small incision into the abscess will help the pus drain out. The dentist may also debride and irrigate or wash the area of infection with saline. Debridement is removal of dead or necrotic tissue that will never heal.

Antibiotic therapy

It is not always easy or even possible to drain the abscess. A serious dental infection can “neutralize” the effects of local anesthetics making it very difficult to numb the patient for treatment. Infected lower molars are especially difficult to numb in the presence of a serious infection. In these cases, a patient needs to be placed on an appropriate antibiotic to reduce the infection, so the local anesthetics can be effective for comfortable treatment.

Root canal

A root canal is a dental procedure to remove the nerve, arteries and vein in the center of the tooth root. In an infected tooth, a root canal can help remove infection and drain the abscess. When the infection heals, the tooth is restored with a crown to increase the strength and preserve the tooth.

Tooth extraction

If the infected tooth can’t be saved, it will be extracted to drain the abscess and promote healing of the infection.


If there is increased swelling or fever despite antibiotic administration and other treatments, the dental patient may need to be seen in a hospital setting. We’ll need to partner with a local oral surgeon who has hospital privileges in these cases, but we will be your advocate every step of the way to ensure you don’t get “lost” in the hospital emergency room, dealing with physicians who may not have the expertise to handle the situation.

Is a Tooth Abscess Considered a Dental Emergency?

Tooth abscess is absolutely a dental emergency. If you have a tooth abscess, you need to seek treatment immediately. Left untreated, abscess can lead to infection that spreads through the body causing serious and even life-threatening effects. The sooner these issues are treated the better!

When Should I Visit the Dentist for Tooth Abscess?

If you notice any of the symptoms of tooth abscess listed above, you should come in to see us as soon as possible, and we will make every effort to set aside a same day appointment for you. Because of the dangers associated with tooth abscess, one of our dentists may even recommend coming into the office outside of regular hours. Don’t wait for the pain or infection to spread. Get help right away.

Meet McCarl Dental Group

The dentists at McCarl Dental Group take care of patients with dental emergencies every day at our Greenbelt, Maryland dental office. We provide same day emergency dental care to patients with pain from dental infections. Many patients who need emergency dentistry treatment are new to our dental office, and we are happy to help! If you’re in need of emergency dentistry services, call our dental office in Greenbelt, MD right way.