A dental abscess is an infection of the mouth,
face, jaw, or throat that begins as a tooth infection or cavity.
These infections are common in people with poor dental health
and result from lack of proper and timely dental care.
Bacteria from a cavity can extend into the gums, the cheek,
the throat, beneath the tongue, or even into the jaw or facial
bones. A dental abscess can become very painful when tissues
• Pus collects at the site of the infection and will become
progressively more painful until it either ruptures and drains
on its own or is drained surgically.
• Sometimes the infection can progress to the point where
swelling threatens to block the airway, causing difficulty
breathing. Dental abscesses can also make you generally ill,
with nausea, vomiting, fevers, chills, and sweats.
Dental Abscess Causes
The cause of these infections is direct growth of the bacteria
from an existing cavity into the soft tissues and bones of
the face and neck.
An infected tooth that has not received appropriate dental
care can cause a dental abscess to form. Poor oral hygiene,
(such as not brushing and flossing properly or often enough)
can cause cavities to form in your teeth. The infection then
may spread to the gums and adjacent areas and become a painful
Dental Abscess Symptoms
• Symptoms of a dental abscess typically include pain, swelling,
and redness of the mouth and face. With an advanced infection,
you can suffer nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and diarrhea.
• The signs of dental abscess typically include, but are
not limited to, cavities, gum inflammation, oral swelling,
tenderness with touch, pus drainage, and sometimes difficulty
fully opening your mouth or swallowing.
When to Seek Medical
If you think you have an abscess, call your
dentist. If you cannot reach a dentist, go to a hospital's
Emergency Department for evaluation, especially if you feel
• If an infection becomes so painful that
it cannot be managed by nonprescription medicines, see your
doctor or dentist for drainage.
• If you develop fever, chills, nausea, vomiting,
or diarrhea as a result of a dental abscess, see your doctor.
If you have intolerable pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing,
any of the symptoms of a dental abscess, or you cannot reach
your doctor or dentist during off hours, go to a hospital's
emergency department for evaluation and treatment. By seeking
treatment before your symptoms progress to this stage, you
can avoid emergency department visits.
The dentistr may decide to cut open the abscess
and allow the pus to drain. Unless the abscess ruptures on
its own, this is the only way that the infection can be cured.
People with dental abscesses are typically prescribed pain
relievers and, at the discretion of the doctor, antibiotics
to fight the infection. An abscess that has extended to the
floor of the mouth or to the neck may need to be drained in
the operating room under anesthesia.
Prevention plays a major role in maintaining
good dental health. Daily brushing and flossing, and regular
dental checkups can prevent tooth decay and dental abscess.
• Remember to brush and floss after every meal and at bedtime.
• If tooth decay is discovered early and treated promptly,
cavities that could develop into abscesses can usually be
• Avoidance of cigarette smoking and excess alcohol consumption
can help too.
The prognosis is good for resolution of a
small dental abscess, once it has ruptured or been drained.
If the symptoms are improving, it is unlikely that the infection
is getting worse. Proper follow-up care with your dentist
is mandatory for reassessment of your infection and for taking
care of the problem tooth.
• Care might include pulling the tooth or having a root canal
performed on it.
• Dental abscesses that have extended to the floor of the
mouth or to the neck can threaten a person's airway and ability
to breathe and may be life-threatening unless they are properly