What is a tooth abscess?

A tooth abscess is an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth.

What causes a tooth abscess?

The most common cause is severe tooth decay. Other causes of tooth abscess are trauma to the tooth, such as when it is broken or chipped, and gum disease.

These problems can cause openings in the tooth enamel, which then allows bacteria to infect the center of the tooth (the pulp). The infection may also spread from the root of the tooth to the bones supporting the tooth.

What are the symptoms of an abscessed tooth?

Common symptoms of an abscessed tooth include gnawing or throbbing pain or sharp or shooting pain caused by a toothache that is severe and continuous. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Pain when chewing
  • Sensitivity of the teeth to hot or cold (mostly hot--sometimes relief with cold)
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Foul smell to the breath
  • Swollen neck glands
  • General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling
  • Redness and swelling of the gums
  • Swollen area in the upper or lower jaw
  • An open, draining sore on the side of the gum
  • Loosening of the tooth

If the root of the tooth dies as a result of infection, the toothache may stop. However, this doesn't mean the infection has healed; the infection remains active and continues to spread and destroy tissue. Therefore, if you have any of the above symptoms, it is important to see a dentist even if the pain goes away.