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Tooth Abscess: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Man suffering from tooth abscess

A tooth abscess is a bacterial infection that causes a pocket of puss. The abscess can happen for different reasons and in different regions of the tooth. A periodontal abscess happens at the side of a tooth root on the gums, while a periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root.

The tooth can be treated through drainage and getting rid of the infection. In some cases, the tooth might need to be pulled, while in other you will be able to save it with a root canal treatment. Leaving the tooth untreated can lead to serious problems.

Healthy vs abscessed tooth comparison

Causes for Tooth Abscess

The inside of your tooth is filled with blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves and it sometimes gets infected. The reason for the infection can be a cracked tooth, periodontal disease also known as gum disease, or tooth decay. Although the way the bacteria gets into your teeth depends on the type of abscess.

Gum disease usually causes a periodontal abscess, but this type of abscess can also be the outcome of an injury. Bacteria that entered your teeth through a cavity is called a periapical abscess. When a foreign body like toothbrush bristle or popcorn hull gets into your gums it is known as a gingival abscess.

Tooth abscess risk can be increased by these factors:

  • Dry Mouth – The risk of tooth decay can be increased by having a dry mouth. Dry mouth is often caused by aging issues or as a side effect of certain types of medication.
  • A high sugar diet – Often eating food that has a lot of sugar like sodas and sweets can lead to tooth abscess through your teeth developing dental cavities.
  • Bad dental hygiene – What can increase your risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth abscess is not taking proper care of your gums and teeth. This means not flossing and not brushing your teeth twice a day.


Throbbing pain in your gums or near a tooth that gets worse over time is the main symptom of an abscessed tooth. Symptoms of an abscessed tooth that you might experience also include: trouble swallowing or breathing, swollen lymph nodes, pain when you chew, gum redness, bad taste, tooth sensitivity, loose or discolored teeth, jaw pain, swelling, or general pain.

You may notice an abscess through a bump on your gum that looks like a pimple. If a liquid oozes out when you press it and you feel instant pain relief, it is definitely the case of an abscessed tooth. The liquid coming out of the pimple is a puss.


A tooth abscess can be diagnosed through dental radiographs, tests, and exams that are performed by the dentist, or by symptoms and signs reported by the patient. Even though swelling and pain are common signs, sometimes you won’t show any symptoms. In that case, the dentist can identify it by tapping on the tooth to see if it hurts or through an X-ray scan. If the dentist can’t diagnose it, he might send you to a person specifically trained for working with abscessed teeth – an endodontist. 

Tooth Abscess Treatment

A tooth abscess is treated by removing the cause of the infection and draining the pus. Possible treatments may include:

  • Making an incision and draining – making a small cut in the gums to drain the abscess
  • Root canal treatment – Before filling and sealing the affected tooth, there is a procedure done to remove the abscess from the root
  • Removing the tooth – In case a root canal treatment is not possible, removing the tooth might be necessary

For these procedures, in order to numb your mouth, usually, a local anesthetic is used. The operations for more severe cases are done when you’re asleep under general anesthetic. Antibiotics can also be used to prevent the spread of the infection, although they are not routinely prescribed.

Prevention of Tooth Abscess

You should keep your gums and teeth healthy in order to reduce the risk of developing a tooth abscess. This means brushing your teeth twice a day for least two minutes and using an interdental brush or floss to clean the spaces between your teeth.

You should also try avoiding to rinse your mouth with mouthwash or water after brushing your teeth because it washes away the protective toothpaste. The lower the risk of a cavity, cut down on starchy and sugary goods and drinks. And lastly, regularly visit the dentist.

When to See a Dentist

An abscessed tooth should be treated by a dentist. You will want to have the area cleaned and examined by your dentist even if the abscess is already ruptured, just to make sure the infection doesn’t spread.

Female dentist showing dental x-ray to patient

At Modern Day Smiles, we use digital x-rays that make sure we provide the most accurate diagnosis and the necessary treatment for a tooth abscess in the earliest stages. We offer a New Patient Special that includes an exam, cleaning and X-rays and only costs $59. To find out more please call 727-322-0505 for our office in St. Petersburg, or 813-890-0044 for our office in Tampa. Proudly serving St. Pete and Tampa for years!


Q: Is dental abscess considered a dental emergency?

A: When left untreated, the infection can spread to the gums, teeth and the bone around the infected tooth. A dental abscess is considered a dental emergency and if left untreated it can cause life-threatening problems.

Q: What are the best antibiotics for an abscessed tooth?

A: Common antibiotics prescribed for tooth abscess include: amoxicillin, penicillin, clindamycin, metronidazole, erythromycin, clindamycin.

Q: How much does abscess treatment cost?

A: The treatment price varies from the type of treatment that is needed for the dental infection and it also varies from one dentist to another. However, most insurance policies cover some or most of the costs paid for the treatment.