Dental Abscess 

An abscess is a pocket of fluid (pus) at the tip of a tooth root in your jawbone. It's caused by an infection at the root of the tooth. It can cause pain and swelling of the gum, cheek, or jaw. Pain may spread from the tooth to your ear. Or pain may spread to the part of your jaw on the same side. If the abscess isn’t treated, it looks like a bubble or swelling on the gum near the tooth. The pressure that builds in this swelling causes pain. More serious infections make your face swell.

An abscess can occur when bacteria enter the tooth through a crack in the tooth, a cavity, a gum infection, or a combination of these. The pulp inside the tooth gets infected. Then bacteria can spread down the roots to the tip. If the bacteria are not stopped, they can harm the bone and soft tissue. Then an abscess can form.

Symptoms can include pain, redness, or swelling of the gums, and fever.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Don't have hot and cold foods and drinks. Your tooth may be sensitive to changes in temperature. Don’t chew on the side of the infected tooth.

  • If your tooth is chipped or cracked, or if there is a large open cavity, put clove oil right on the tooth to ease pain. You can buy clove oil at pharmacies. Some pharmacies carry an over-the-counter toothache kit. This has a paste that you can put on the exposed tooth to make it less sensitive.

  • Put a cold pack on your jaw over the sore area to help ease pain.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine to ease pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or if you've had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • An antibiotic will be prescribed. Take it until finished, even if you are feeling better after a few days.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your dentist or an oral surgeon, or as advised. Once an infection occurs in a tooth, it will be a problem until the infection is drained. This is done through surgery or a root canal. Or you may need to have your tooth pulled.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Abnormal drowsiness

  • Headache or stiff neck

  • Weakness or fainting

  • Trouble swallowing, breathing, or opening your mouth

  • Swollen eyelids

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your face gets more swollen or red

  • Pain gets worse or spreads to your neck

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38.0ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Pus drains from the tooth

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