A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus (infection). It damages oral tissues and can spread to other areas of your body, causing serious health issues in some cases. An abscessed tooth won’t heal on its own and requires treatment from a dental healthcare provider.
A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus from a bacterial infection in your gums. An abscess usually looks like a red, swollen bump, boil or pimple. It affects the involved tooth, but the infection can also spread to surrounding bone and neighboring teeth. Abscesses can occur in different places around a tooth for different reasons.
Three types of tooth infections can cause abscesses:
Left untreated, a tooth abscess can spread to your jawbone, the soft tissues of your face and neck, and beyond. In extremely rare cases, the infection can travel to your heart (endocarditis) and brain (bacterial meningitis).
You’re more likely to develop an abscessed tooth if you:
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If you have a tooth abscess, you might describe your pain as:
Other tooth abscess symptoms may include:
In addition, you may experience more generalized symptoms like:
Anything that creates an opening for bacteria to get into your tooth or surrounding tissues can lead to a tooth abscess. Causes include:
In addition to examining the tooth and surrounding tissue for signs of infection, your dentist may:
Goals of treatment are to eliminate the infection and prevent complications. Tooth abscess treatment options include:
A tooth abscess should clear up after treatment. Temporary sensitivity is common, and it may take a few days to feel completely back to normal.
As every case is unique, healing times can vary. Ask your dentist what to expect after your tooth abscess treatment.
A tooth abscess won’t go away on its own. Pain may stop if an infection causes the pulp inside your tooth to die. The pain stops because the nerve isn’t functioning anymore, so you may not be able to feel it. However, the bacteria will continue to spread and destroy surrounding tissue. If you have tooth abscess symptoms, see your dentist even if you no longer have pain.
Left untreated, a tooth abscess will eventually spread to the surrounding tissues and beyond, wreaking havoc on your oral and overall health. It can take weeks or months for the infection to spread — and it’s impossible to know exactly how long that will take. Because tooth abscesses don’t go away on their own, it’s critical that you see a dentist as soon as possible.
You can reduce the risk of developing a tooth abscess by seeing your dentist routinely and getting regular dental check-ups and cleanings. It’s also important to see your dentist if a tooth becomes loose or chipped. Proper oral hygiene is essential for dental health. At home, brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day.
Tooth pain is a sign that you should see your dentist. While you wait for your appointment, warm saltwater rinses and over-the-counter pain relievers (such as acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen) can ease discomfort. It’s important to note that there is no tooth abscess home remedy that can permanently solve the issue.
If you develop mouth pain, a toothache or a red, swollen bump on your gums, schedule an appointment with a dentist right away. The sooner you get treatment, the less likely it is that the infection will spread beyond your tooth.
You should head to your nearest emergency room if you have a tooth abscess accompanied by:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A tooth abscess is a pocket of bacterial infection that can damage oral tissues and spread to other areas of your body. Be sure to see your dentist routinely and don’t put off regular check-ups, as prevention is key. These visits give your dentist a chance to spot problems early, when they may be easier to treat. If you’re experiencing pain, it’s important to see your dentist to get the care you need.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/27/2023.
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