woman with tooth pain

An abscessed tooth can develop relatively quickly, most often within a matter of days. An abscess is a pocket of pus caused by trapped bacteria that occurs around a tooth or underneath the gum tissue. Typically swollen and irritated, many patients will feel pressure at the site of the infection.

While most patients will feel pain from an abscess, it is possible to have an abscess go entirely undetected for months or even years. An abscessed tooth will not go away on its own and requires treatment from a dentist, and if left untreated, it can continue to worsen.

What is an Abscess?

An abscess is typically swollen, irritated, and filled with pus. There are two types of abscesses that most commonly form:

Periodontal Abscess. This type of abscess is an infection between the tooth and gum. A periodontal abscess most often occurs due to an already existing infection in the gums. Inadequate cleaning of the space between the teeth and gums and neglecting to floss regularly is a common cause of periodontal abscesses.

Periapical Abscess. This type of abscess occurs when the root of a tooth begins to die or after the root is dead. The infection spreads to the bone and surrounding areas. The infection first begins inside the tooth and continues to spread when left untreated.

Signs You Have an Abscessed Tooth

Most patients can feel the pain from an abscess due to the swollen, irritated tissue. It is also likely that you will feel pressure from the pus and irritation from the infection. Pain experienced is typically a dull throbbing with additional symptoms, including:

  • Severe, persistent, throbbing
  • A toothache that can radiate to the jawbone, neck or ear
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures of food or beverages
  • Sensitivity to the pressure of chewing
  • Pain when biting down
  • Swelling in your face or cheek
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck
  • A foul-smelling and foul-tasting, salty fluid in your mouth
  • Relief of pain if the abscess ruptures
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • High fever

Treatment Options

When first discovering an abscess, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever may help in easing any pain or discomfort as a temporary solution. It is vital that you visit your dentist as soon as possible. An abscess requires antibiotics to treat the infection in addition to other topical medications. An infection will not go away on its own, and we do not recommend any at-home remedies without first consulting with Hoffman Dental Care to avoid worsening the infection.


  • Draining – An abscess often needs to be drained to promote healing. There are several methods used to drain an abscess depending on the severity of the infection and the condition of the tooth. An incision in the gums may be required for your dentist to drain the abscess.


  • Root Canal – Root canal therapy may be necessary to remove any infected tissue from the tooth root after the infection is treated with antibiotics. A crown may be required to restore the functionality of the tooth.


  • Tooth Removal – If the infection is severe, the affected tooth may need to be removed entirely to treat the infection. After the tooth removal, the infected gum area will still require treatment with antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading. A bridge or a dental implant will be necessary to restore functionality.


Preventing an Abscess

The best way to prevent an abscess from forming is by practicing excellent oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing daily helps to disrupt the buildup of plaque and tartar on the surface of the teeth. Flossing once a day helps to clean between the teeth and keep the gum tissue stimulated. Removing left-behind food particles reduces the number of bacteria that can ultimately lead to infection.

Twice-annual dental exams and cleanings are also a great way to ensure your dental health is being properly maintained. Your dentist will be able to detect any oral health conditions that require attention before an issue gets out of hand. To avoid a future dental abscess, contact Hoffman Dental Care to schedule your next routine cleaning and exam.