Periodontal Abscess

A periodontal abscess is a pocket of infection that forms in your gums. Anyone can get periodontal abscesses, but they’re more common in people with poor oral hygiene. Without treatment, the infection from a periodontal abscess can spread to other areas of your mouth and body, resulting in complications.


What is a periodontal abscess?

A periodontal abscess is a pocket of infection (pus) that starts in your gums. Other names for the condition include gum abscess and lateral periodontal abscess.

Periodontal abscess vs. periapical abscess: What’s the difference?

A periodontal abscess forms in your gums, while a periapical abscess forms in your tooth pulp (the innermost layer of your tooth).

What does a periodontal abscess look like?

A periodontal abscess looks like a boil or pimple on your gums. It’s usually darker than other areas of your gum and looks swollen. The swelling can range from mild to severe.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a gum abscess?

The most obvious symptom is a swollen bump on your gums. Many people experience pain or tenderness, but some don’t.

Other periodontal abscess symptoms may include:

What causes a gum abscess?

A periodontal abscess forms when bacteria from your mouth invade the space between your teeth and gums. Gum disease is the most common reason why this occurs, and it’s the number one risk factor for periodontal abscesses.

You’re also more likely to develop a gum abscess if you have:

What are the risk factors for a gum abscess?

Risk factors for periodontal abscess include:

  • Poor oral hygiene. This is the number one risk factor. If you don’t routinely remove plaque and tartar from your teeth, your gums become red and inflamed. These symptoms are early indicators of gum disease. Left untreated, gum disease can result in dental abscesses and bone loss.
  • A high-sugar diet. Consuming sugary foods and drinks increases your risk for cavities and gum disease.

What are the complications of a periodontal abscess?

Left untreated, a gum abscess can lead to oral health issues, including:

  • Destruction of the ligaments and soft tissues around your teeth.
  • Bone loss in your jaw.
  • Tooth loss.

Research suggests that bacteria from your mouth can travel to other parts of your body. In some cases, a periodontal abscess may be associated with:

Call a dentist right away if you think you have a gum abscess. Prompt treatment is key to avoiding complications.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a periodontal abscess diagnosed?

A dentist will diagnose a gum abscess by:

  • Reviewing your symptoms. Your dentist will ask about your symptoms, such as how long the abscess has been present.
  • Doing a periodontal exam. They’ll measure the pockets around the affected tooth. This tells them if you’ve lost any bone in the area — and if so, how much.
  • Taking dental X-rays. Your dentist will take X-rays of the affected tooth. This shows them the severity of the abscess and how far the infection has spread.

Management and Treatment

How is a periodontal abscess treated?

A periodontal abscess is a dental emergency that requires prompt attention. Periodontal abscess treatments include:

  • Periodontal abscess drainage. Your dentist may need to drain the abscess. During this procedure, they’ll make a small incision (cut) in your gums, then apply pressure to drain the infection.
  • Gum disease treatment. To get rid of the infection, your dentist may recommend scaling and root planing (deep dental cleaning) or gum surgery.
  • Antibiotics. In addition to cleaning the infected area, your dentist may prescribe a round of antibiotics to reduce your risk of re-infection.
  • Root canal treatment. If a periodontal abscess spreads to a tooth and infects it, you might need root canal treatment to save the tooth.
  • Tooth extraction. In severe cases, your dentist may recommend removing an infected tooth. If you need a tooth extraction, your dentist will talk to you about replacement options.

You can’t treat a periodontal abscess at home. If you think you have a gum abscess, call a dentist right away.


How can I lower my risk for periodontal abscesses?

Practicing excellent oral hygiene is the best way to reduce your risk for a periodontal abscess:

  • Brush your teeth two to three times every day.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss between your teeth at least once every day.
  • Visit your dentist for regular exams and cleanings.
  • If you have dry mouth, talk to your dentist about ways to manage the condition.
  • If you grind or clench your teeth, talk to your dentist about a mouth guard.

Outlook / Prognosis

Will a periodontal abscess go away?

A periodontal abscess won’t go away on its own. It requires professional treatment.

How urgent is a periodontal abscess?

Most periodontal abscesses aren’t life-threatening. But because the infection can spread, it’s important to treat it as quickly as possible. Though it’s rare, an untreated periodontal abscess can result in sepsis and other life-threatening conditions.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you have a swollen, painful bump on your gums, you should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. They can confirm your diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment.

When should I go to the emergency room?

Call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room if you develop:

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you have a periodontal abscess, here are some questions you may want to ask your dentist:

  • Where is the abscess?
  • How far has the infection spread?
  • Do I need antibiotics?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How can I prevent this from happening in the future?

Additional Common Questions

Is a periodontal abscess contagious?

While an abscess itself isn’t contagious, the bacteria that cause it can spread from person to person. Bacteria spreads through direct contact with infected saliva. If you have a periodontal abscess, you should avoid sharing cups, eating utensils and other personal items.

Can I pop a periodontal abscess?

You should never, under any circumstance, try to pop a periodontal abscess. If you think you have a periodontal abscess, call a dentist right away.

Can I treat a periodontal abscess at home?

No, you can’t treat a periodontal abscess at home. While some home remedies (such as warm saltwater rinses) can help ease discomfort, they can’t cure the infection.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A periodontal abscess is a pocket of infection that starts in your gums. Left untreated, a gum abscess can spread to other areas of your mouth and body, resulting in other complications. The sooner you treat the issue, the better. If you think you have a periodontal abscess, a dentist can help.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/05/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.8500