A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that's caused by a bacterial infection. The abscess can occur at different regions of the tooth for different reasons. A periapical (per-e-AP-ih-kul) abscess occurs at the tip of the root, whereas a periodontal (per-e-o-DON-tul) abscess occurs in the gums at the side of a tooth root. The information here refers specifically to periapical abscesses.
A periapical tooth abscess usually occurs as a result of an untreated dental cavity, an injury or prior dental work.
Dentists will treat a tooth abscess by draining it and getting rid of the infection. They may be able to save your tooth with a root canal treatment, but in some cases the tooth may need to be pulled. Leaving a tooth abscess untreated can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications.
Bacteria can enter the innermost part of the tooth through either a deep cavity or a chip or crack in your tooth. The resulting infection and inflammation can cause an abscess at the tip of the root.
Signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess include:
See your dentist promptly if you have any signs or symptoms of a tooth abscess.
If you have a fever and swelling in your face and you can't reach your dentist, go to an emergency room. Also go to the emergency room if you have trouble breathing or swallowing. These symptoms may indicate that the infection has spread deeper into your jaw and surrounding tissue or even to other areas of your body.
A periapical tooth abscess occurs when bacteria invade the dental pulp — the innermost part of the tooth that contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.
Bacteria enter through either a dental cavity or a chip or crack in the tooth and spread all the way down to the root. The bacterial infection can cause swelling and inflammation at the tip of the root.
These factors may increase your risk of a tooth abscess:
A tooth abscess won't go away without treatment. If the abscess ruptures, the pain may decrease significantly — but you still need dental treatment. If the abscess doesn't drain, the infection may spread to your jaw and to other areas of your head and neck. You might even develop sepsis — a life-threatening infection that spreads throughout your body.
If you have a weakened immune system and you leave a tooth abscess untreated, your risk of a spreading infection increases even more.
Avoiding tooth decay is essential to preventing a tooth abscess. Take good care of your teeth to avoid tooth decay:
In addition to examining your tooth and the surrounding area, your dentist may:
The goal of treatment is to get rid of the infection. To accomplish this, your dentist may:
While the area is healing, your dentist may recommend these steps to help ease discomfort:
You're likely to start by seeing your dentist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment:
Questions to ask your dentist may include:
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions during your appointment.
Your dentist is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as those below.
Your dentist will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time.